How better to start the new year than with lofty aspirations, a leisurely dinner in a hip setting, techno on the sound system — and plenty of great sake? That's exactly what you find at The Hangar, a sleek little sake-specialist bar-turned-restaurant that seems to exemplify Japan's reborn enthusiasm for its national tipple, nihonshu.

Just a few steps away from the limpid, tree-lined banks of the Meguro River in Naka-Meguro, The Hangar occupies a much smaller footprint than you'd guess from its name. But owner Yoshiaki Soma is thinking big. And he's already made a major evolution in his approach.

When he first opened here a year and a half back, The Hangar functioned as a sake standing bar — not the no-frills, one-cup type of joint common a generation ago but a sophisticated, well-groomed take on the genre that fit perfectly in this laid-back, style-conscious neighborhood.