Enjoy Hakodate’s Nightlife at These Top 9 Spots
Fukuoka, Japan nightlife district | © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
Hakodate’s secret is its small but friendly nightlife scene. If you know where to look, this laid-back town offers entertainment every bit as varied and characterful as that of the Japan’s largest cities.
What Hakodate lacks in scale it makes up for in charm. And the city’s attractions don’t end when the sun goes down. At night, the downtown area overflows with crowds of people out enjoying themselves in the hundreds of eccentric, carefully curated bars and clubs. Have drinks at the yatai (food stalls) of Daimon Yokocho, see city views from EsteLado and dance until dawn at Club Cocoa – these are the best ways to enjoy a night out here.
Market, Beer, Snacks
Yatai have been around for hundreds of years in Japan. These food stalls were originally two-wheeled wooden carts. And after the Second World War, they evolved into the small stalls common to every Japanese city, where they can now be found lining the back alleys around busy railway stations. Hakodate’s yatai, a collection of about 30 tiny bars and izakaya (informal drinking establishments) are concentrated in a small city block called Daimon Yokocho, just two minutes from the station. There are no private tables and the small stalls seldom accommodate more than 10 at a time, giving you the opportunity to sit and drink with strangers, including local celebrities. Pick any of the stalls, order a beer and strike up a conversation, you can’t go wrong. This is the perfect start to any big evening out – or a great place to stop for a bite between bars.
Big Bar Job
Offering standing room only, this well-stocked bar in the Goryokaku neighbourhood is noteworthy for its excellent selection of bottled beers. The boss here is a former boxer and committed surfer who can be found at the nearby surfer’s paradise Todohokke on most days – and this eccentric bar reflects his free-spirited personality. There may be larger, swankier places to drink in Hakodate, but for atmosphere and character, BBJ (as the locals call it), is a great spot for a night out in the city.
Sky Bar EsteLado
For a classy start to any evening, head to the 13th floor of the Four Points by Sheraton Hakodate, just a five-minute walk from Hakodate JR Station. Perched at the top of this smart hotel, Night View Bar EsteLado makes good on the promise of its name, offering superb views out over the city. The range of fine and rare spirits on offer is also unequalled anywhere else in the city. Surprisingly, given the fabulous location, impeccable service and chic atmosphere, prices are affordable, and there are no table charges.
Jazz Spot Leaf
A night at Jazz Spot Leaf, located in Hon-cho, is more akin to wandering into someone’s living room than a big night out. This wonderfully cosy and beautifully lit bar offers a boho feel as well as a collection of original jazz vinyl. In a country where it can feel like nobody stops to catch a breath, the owners of Leaf want you to spend your time cocooned in a delightful fug of perfectly chosen jazz records and hand-mixed cocktails, quietly listening and watching the world go by.
Cocktail Bar, Cocktails, $$$
Local favourite Jey’s is the place to go for a night of affordable fun. Although located just a couple of minutes from the main station, this secret den, tucked down a short set of stairs and marked only by a tiny plaque on the wall outside, is one of the little-known delights in Hakodate. Although there is a small service charge, the selection of rare whiskies and friendly staff make this glamorous drinking den a must-visit.
Cocoa is a multipurpose club hosting a range of live events, and consistently attracting the city’s largest crowds. Whether it is dance, hip-hop, rock or beat box, this is where you’ll find the heart and soul of Hakodate’s small but vibrant live music scene, as well as more unexpected events such as Mexican wrestling. Check out the club’s up-to-date website for the latest on upcoming events. Regular buses from the station stop just round the corner from this club.
Tucked away on the third floor of a building in the lively Hon-cho neighbourhood, this inviting Irish bar is the go-to for chatty locals and proper pints of your favourite black beer. This is a great place to make friends, especially on busier nights when the sense of community is palpable, and you’ll quickly get to know the regulars after a couple of visits. Eiley’s is popular with expats but increasingly attracts a Japanese crowd looking for a more international experience.
Cocktail Bar, Cocktails
For a slice of history, make your way to Suginoko – one of the oldest continuously operating bars in Hakodate. Established in 1958, this bar still boasts many original features dating back to this period, including the fabulous counter. While there is an impressive line-up of original cocktails, Aoi-san’s famous rum highball is hard to top. The spirit and energy of this retro bar, located opposite the yatai of Daimon Yokocho, still burns bright.
Nightclub, Bar, Beer, Wine, Cocktails
Stone Love is Hakodate’s oldest nightclub. Located in a basement next to the Goryokaku-mae tram stop, this is also arguably the city’s liveliest venue for a night out. Though it’s just a bar during the week, Stone Love transforms into a buzzing live venue with a focus on reggae, house and hip-hop on the weekend. Entrance fees can be steep, but drinks are reasonably priced once you are in.
These recommendations were updated on June 24, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.