Get a Taste of Mountain Beer Halls and Cherry Blossom Cocktails at the Best Bars in Hakodate, Japan

There are plenty of great places to enjoy a cocktail in Hakodate
There are plenty of great places to enjoy a cocktail in Hakodate | © Paolo Patrizi / Alamy Stock Photo
Tom Smith

When the port of Hakodate opened to the world in 1859, imports flooded in. Beer was among them. And today, there are plenty of great places to enjoy a cold pint in this charming gateway to southern Hokkaido.

There are three main nightlife precincts in Hakodate. The foothills of Mount Hakodate are populated with British-style pubs and beer halls, whereas the Daimon Yokocho area comprises a row of small restaurants and bars between Hakodate station and Matsukazecho tram stop. Meanwhile, Honcho, to the north of the city centre – around Goryokaku-Koen-Mae and Chuo-byoin-mae tram stations – is where you’ll find small streets crowded with karaoke bars and cocktail joints. From craft beer to cherry-blossom concoctions, here are eight great bars to sample while in Hakodate.

1. Hakodate Beer

Gastropub, Beer

Dating back to 1898, this brewery was revived in the Red Brick Warehouse precinct almost a century later, and still brews beer on-site today. The secret ingredient? The natural groundwater of Mount Hakodate, vital to Hakodate Beer’s signature pilsner, as well as inventive brews such as Hakodate Ichigo no Hatsu Koi made with seasonal Hokkaido strawberries. The Red Brick Warehouse houses a large beer hall, while a second venue in an old fish market a few blocks back from the water combines a lively restaurant on the ground floor and a banquet hall above. Both venues serve western and Japanese-style pub grub that goes down a treat with the amber liquid.

2. Bar Suginoko

Cocktail Bar, Cocktails

Bar Suginoko first opened its doors in 1958 as a cabaret club, before changing its address and its atmosphere to become a cosy cocktail bar close to Daimon Yokocho. The current owner is Motoko Aoi, who took the reins from her father; his pictures still hang on the walls. Bar Suginoko has kept its original counter, and there are old favourites on the drinks menu such as rum highball and Kaitan-shi Jokei (white rum and sambuca). The Mashu-maru (rum, curaçao, lemon and vermouth) is named after the ferry that operated between Hakodate and the Honshu mainland, over the Tsugaru Strait, before a tunnel was built in 1988.

3. Bar Jeys

Cocktail Bar, Cocktails

Not far from Bar Suginoko and only two blocks from the Matsukazecho tram stop, Bar Jeys stands out from the strip of watering holes around Hakodate station for its dazzling array of whiskies. The backlit shelves are stacked with single malts behind an elegant oak bar, manned by owner Shigeyoshi Ogasawara. Always dressed in his vest and bow tie, he brings a touch of class to the occasion. Jazz plays out over the speakers and a wall of books put the finishing touches on this small but refined cocktail joint.

4. Bar Big Job

Pub, Beer

No, not Bruce Springsteen, but a local legend whose reputation around Hakodate is almost as mighty. The Boss – a former boxing and surfing champion who still hits the waves off the Oshima peninsula – runs this tourist-friendly favourite just a block from Goryokaku-Koen-Mae tram station in Honcho. Bar Big Job, or BBJ for short, is tiny – there are fewer than a dozen seats inside, although more are added outside on the pavement during the warmer months – and the fridge, packed with bottles of imported and Japanese beers, never fails to fill the venue.

5. Sky Bar EsteLado

Bar, Cocktails

While visitors clamber to reach the top of Mount Hakodate at sunset, this lofty perch in the city centre provides a stunning view of the peak itself. Towering above the west exit of Hakodate station, not far from the port, Sky Bar EsteLado occupies the 13th floor of the Four Points by Sheraton hotel. Massive windows make the most of this lofty vantage point, framing a postcard view of Mount Hakodate. The only thing that might distract you from the view is the long row of liquor bottles. Prices are reasonable for a high-end hotel bar – especially one with such a romantic atmosphere and jaw-dropping vistas.

6. Bar Evit

Cocktail Bar, Japanese

Bar Evit sits halfway between Goryokaku-Koen-Mae and Chuo-byoin-mae tram stations, surrounded by the beer bars, ramen joints and izakaya that populate Honcho. The venue sits across two storeys – the first has a wooden counter designed for throwing down a quick drink, while upstairs is filled with sofas for revellers taking advantage of the all-you-can-drink offer. One of the classiest places for a tipple in this neighbourhood, you’ll find a sophisticated drinks menu including cherry blossom concoctions during sakura season, a selection of natural wines and a rotating selection of craft brews from around the country.

7. Bar Shares Hishii

Cocktail Bar, Cocktails

One word sums up this swanky cocktail bar’s ever-evolving cocktail list: sweet. Bar Shares Hishii comes up with elaborate creations such as orange, kiwi and caramel ice cream, strawberry and cappuccino alcoholic parfait, deep green matcha cocktails, plus cutting-edge combinations of apple, honey and apricot, pear and cognac, and red grapes, lime and orange liqueur. Located near the Horai-cho tram stop, only steps from the ropeway station at the base of Mount Hakodate, a small blue sign marks the entrance: once inside you’ll find a tiny eight-seat counter downstairs and a few small tables and couches above the elegant liquor shelves. A small choice of pizzas and charcuterie boards complements the drinks.

8. Woodrow’s British Pub

Pub, British

The British influence on Hakodate has been keenly felt ever since the port was opened to international trade in the 1850s – just look at the rose garden and tea rooms in the old British consulate in Motomachi, or the striking design of St John’s Anglican church nearby. So it’s only fitting that another of Britain’s great cultural exports – the pub – is found here, too. Woodrow’s British Pub prides itself on all the English staples: European beers on tap and in the fridge, fish and chips on the menu, and rugby and football on the TV screens.

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