Belying its small size – the town only has 5,000 permanent residents – Niseko boasts an exciting of places to grab a drink. Culture Trip speaks to bar owners from around the town for their view on the drinks scene in Niseko, as well as the best watering holes to visit while you’re here.
Niseko’s bars stock an impressive range of Japanese sakes as well as wines, beers and spirits from both Japan and abroad. But it’s the town’s whisky that draws visitors. “It seems crazy to think about it now, but we struggled with getting people to drink Japanese whisky in the beginning. Now they come in asking especially to try it,” says Ioanna Morelli of Bar Gyu+. “We love Nikka – our award-winning Hokkaido whisky. The Yoichi distillery is located 40 minutes from Niseko, and most bars in the area proudly stock it.”
From a contemporary sake specialist to jazz-filled dive bars, there’s plenty to choose from for a night out in Niseko. “I think there is something for everyone now! Lots of small bars, but also more nightlife-focussed spots open later for the younger crowd,” Morelli states.
Enjoy a cocktail at Toshiro's Bar | Courtesy of Toshiro's Bar
In 2014, Toshiro Akinori and his wife Yoko opened Toshiro’s Bar, a classic cocktail lounge that has become somewhat iconic in Niseko. “Back then, people only drank beer – the trend of drinking cocktails had not yet come to Niseko. Now, people come together from all parts of the world to enjoy cocktails with us.” The bar has recently moved into Niseko Prince Hotel Hirafutei, but promises the same stately experience as its previous location. Besides modern and classic cocktails (the negroni is stellar), Toshiro’s also serves Hokkaido’s native Nikka Whisky.
In January 2020, René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s renowned Noma restaurant visited Niseko and Bar Gyu+. He featured it on his Instagram stories, asking, “Is this the best bar in the world?,” bringing the venue more international exposure and recognition. Bar Gyu+ is a must-go place in Niseko for many reasons. Its quirky entrance (made from a vintage Coca-Cola vending machine), cosy wooden interior with huge picture windows, impressive record collection and beautifully crafted cocktails all contribute to the stylish yet comfortable space. Not sure what to try from the extensive menu? Co-owner Ioanna Morelli’s personal favourite is the Hachiriki, a take on the boulevardier. As Morelli explains, the drinking scene in Niseko is unusual in comparison to many ski areas. “Niseko’s bar scene is different in a sense that we don’t have a large outdoor bar après-ski culture because it snows so much, so it’s more about finding unique hideaways” – and that’s exactly what Bar Gyu+ is. It has come a long way from the quiet nights in 1999, when Morelli’s partner Hisashi added the the iconic door, thinking, “If the bar is going to be slow anyway, I might as well make the entrance as difficult to find as possible!”
FLASHY FRIDAY’S AT OH-NO’S | Courtesy of Claire Davie
With guest DJs on the decks spinning everything from disco to house, techno and R&B, Yoko Oh No’s is a lively Australian-owned bar right on Hirafu’s main street. The staff behind the backlit, violet-hued bar sling beers, shots and boozy cocktails, including the signature C-U-Neva, alongside tasty bites such as wings, quesadillas, nachos and katsu sandwiches. Two-for-one cocktails during Sunday Swizzle also make for a fun party.
SaSa is perfect for both sake connoisseurs and newcomers, as owner Kazu is happy to talk customers through the history of the drink and suggest a tipple based on your preferences. The bar serves 20 varietals of the rice-based Japanese spirit, which are sourced from throughout Japan. SaSa also serves a special fruit sake along with traditional finger foods to nibble on while you drink.
Brand spanking new, The Bar Niseko is a swanky watering hole located above the very popular Niseko Pizza at the heart of Hirafu Village. Its central location, elegant decor, roaring fireplace and extensive range of drinks – from Japanese whiskies to craft gins and beautifully presented modern cocktails – make this place a natural choice for classy evenings out. For a perk-me-up, try the signature Volcanico – a cocktail of home-made chilli liqueur, coffee liqueur and smoked golden rum.
Down in Kutchan, or K-town as it’s known locally , Pump It has just celebrated its one-year anniversary. There are no frills here, but then again, the combination of bar, dance floor and stage is all that’s needed. Pump It hosts DJs and bands from across Japan, with genres ranging from reggaeton to drum and bass and afrobeats, while libations such as sake and shochu cocktails keep patrons amped up.
Enjoy a refreshing beer at Niseko Taproom | Courtesy of Niseko Taproom
Japan’s globally recognised beers include Yokohama’s Kirin, Hokkaido’s Sapporo and Osaka’s Asahi, but customers can delve deeper into the country’s home-grown brews at laid-back Niseko Beers, where a large range of delicious craft IPAs, organic golden ales, oyster stouts, pilsners and other concoctions are available for sampling. What’s more, the microbrewery, which is situated on a quiet street in Niseko town, boasts a beautiful wooden bar, an old-school jukebox crammed with classics, a kitchen serving traditional Japanese meals and amazing views of Mount Annupuri.
Large and lively, Wild Bill’s certainly lives up to its name. The log cabin bar is casual and straightforward, serving beers, wines and spirits – the margaritas and daiquiris are particularly popular, especially during happy hour, which runs from 3pm to 5.30pm daily. Take a seat on the upper level for a Latin American dinner, or order fish tacos and burgers for grazing at the bar. For entertainment, there is sports streaming, darts, a pool table and theme nights – from trivia to karaoke evenings, plus a DJ on the decks from 10pm, which is when the dancing begins.
Warm and cosy, Mick’s is a gem of a place serving locally produced charcuterie, cheese and raclette to accompany a mind-boggling array of unique whiskies, wines and craft beers. What started as a wine shop has morphed into a bar where owner Mick personally selects the best accompaniment to your refreshment, telling the stories of where they are from and how they are made.
With its stunning glass facade, The Barn is a sophisticated bistro in Lower Hirafu that has been built to impress. Its bar is located one level above the dining area, and serves an immensely quaffable selection of bubbles and wine from around the world, as well as luxury craft beers, original cocktails and whisky. It’s definitely one to experience for a special night out in Niseko.
Empty bottles hanging over the bar are a unique feature of Tamashii, a Niseko stalwart that has recently been refurbished and reborn. The vibe here is fun and casual, with a wood-panelled central bar, DJ booth and comfortable leather banquettes. Both drinks and food are tasty and of good value, making it the perfect pick for small groups who want to sit comfortably, and perhaps play some cards while eating and drinking. The atmosphere picks up after 10.30pm, when people start to gravitate to the dance floor.
Listening to jazz at this dive bar in the heart of Kutchan is the draw, along with affordable drinks and a charming host. Owner Megumi sometimes hosts live jazz shows in the wood-clad space, which is rustic and inviting. Locally produced spirits are served here, along with a small menu of Japanese dishes to snack on, such as apple and meat pies. Bar Zero is located in a nondescript building, making the experience inside an unexpectedly nice surprise.
Gyoza and cocktails? Why not! With its lights down low, large cushions and cosy private niches, Blo*Blo is an Asian-themed hole in the wall that was conceptualised by Australian club designer Nic Brunner. The intimate location is perfect for couples and small groups to unwind after a day out on the slopes. Don’t miss signature cocktails such as the Flaming Yotei, and remember to take a look at the wallpaper – be ready to blush! Personable service completes the experience at this special spot.