Home United States USA — Japan Mikio Shinagawa, Who Ran a Fashionable SoHo Haunt, Dies at 66

Mikio Shinagawa, Who Ran a Fashionable SoHo Haunt, Dies at 66


His earthy Japanese restaurant, Omen, became a downtown canteen for well-known patrons like Patti Smith, Yoko Ono and Richard Gere.
Mikio Shinagawa, who as a painter studying Buddhism in the 1980s opened the Japanese restaurant Omen, which became a downtown New York canteen for figures in the art and fashion worlds, died on Nov.17 at a hospital in Kyoto. He was 66. His sister Mariko Shimizu said the cause was liver cancer. As fashionable haunts in New York go, Omen was an unlikely candidate, and Mr. Shinagawa, a serene silver-haired man raised in Kyoto who wore Comme des Garçons suits, was its ethereal anti-restaurateur. When the city’s creative stars congregated at his restaurant to converse over sake, he glided through the place dispensing hospitality with the lightness of a friendly phantom. Situated on Thompson Street in SoHo, Omen’s dark wood space is lined with red brick walls and rice-paper lanterns that glow as the music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis plays softly. The menu consists of Japanese country-style food and dishes like chiso rice and udon noodles. Calligraphy framed above the tables contains brushstrokes that evoke the Japanese character mu, which means nothingness. It was within this earthy den that Mr. Shinagawa’s sanctuary for artists and intellectuals flourished. Omen habitués have included Yoko Ono, Susan Sontag, David Byrne, Ingrid Sischy, Rem Koolhaas, Bill T. Jones and Merce Cunningham. As Julian Schnabel raised a family, his children played at the table while he ate. Richard Gere can find solace there knowing that paparazzi cameras won’t flash in his face. If Patti Smith drops in for a late-night bite, she might sing a song for the kitchen staff. “When I started coming to Omen, I was drawn into the inner community,” Ms. Smith said in a phone interview. “You’d always see well-known people, but no one bothered them, and that atmosphere came from Mikio. He infused the air with an inner peace, and he served the artist. The lightness that emanated from him created a sense of belonging, making you feel part of an abstract spiritual family.” “The last time I saw Lou Reed alive was there,” she added. “He came in with Laurie Anderson, and that’s where I said goodbye to Lou, at Omen.” Mr. Shinagawa didn’t call attention to his clientele, but he could do little to conceal it during New York Fashion Week, when the industry descended upon Omen to discuss the shows over spicy tuna tartare.

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