Kagoshima’s bars are stylish and quirky. Here are the best places to try a traditional shōchū or cocktail in this seaside city.
Japanese bars offer food alongside drinks – or at least substantial bar snacks like the skewered meat that is popular at traditional izakayas. So whether you’re just looking to get a quick drink or want somewhere to spend the evening, Kagoshima has a variety of options to suit all tastes.
Bar Ishizue showcases more than 1,500 varieties of shōchū | Courtesy of Bar Ishizue
While shōchū isn’t an internationally popular beverage, it’s a must-try in Japan, up there with the better-known sake and plum wine. Shōchū is a distilled beverage that’s stronger than wine but not quite as strong as vodka, and the most well-known types are made from rice (kome), sweet potatoes (satsuma-imo) or barley (mugi). Kagoshima is one of the best places in the country to sample speciality flavours and blends, as shōchū originated here in the mid-1500s. As such, shōchū is one beverage you should seek out on your travels, particularly from the speciality bars that serve hundreds of types. You can also buy attractive gift boxes of different flavours from the Kagoshima train station.
As well as the rice wine, Kagoshima also has breweries that produce craft beer, which you can try alongside a wide variety of imported drinks. If wine is more your thing, try the fancy French wine in one of the many restaurant bars, accompanied by a fusion meal of European dishes with Japanese twists.
An amalgamation like no other, Recife and Tereza is not only a restaurant and bar but also a shop selling imported European clothes, furniture, textiles and more. The fourth-floor café bar has a quirky vibe and hip atmosphere, with stylish mismatched tables and chairs. The renovated building has a lived-in charm – it was previously an old dormitory for Toyota workers. Primarily a wine bar with bottles hand-picked from Portuguese vineyards, Recife and Tereza offers more than 200 types of wine, as well as 20 varieties of local shōchū and Japanese craft beer on tap, with seasonal rotations. The multi-course and à la carte menus feature mostly Spanish and Portuguese dishes, and the lunch deal is particularly good. If you’re into world music, you’ll hear plenty of Brazilian jazz-soul in Recife, and it hosts DJ nights, too. Unique for Japanese bars, there’s no seating charge, and its idiosyncratic vibe attracts a wide clientele.
If you want an introduction to shōchū, Bar Ishizue is the place to go. Kagoshima is well known for its number of distillers across the region, and this bar showcases more than 1,500 varieties and unique flavours. Bar owner Yuichi Ikehata will recommend a brand for you based on your preferences, and the knowledgeable staff, complete with English-speaking bartenders, will tell you the history of shōchū, its production process and the unique story behind each brand. Everything is served to perfection, including specially selected water to accompany the strong liquor and tableware that keeps the drink at the correct temperature for optimum enjoyment. Booking is advised, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays. The table charge of ¥1,100 (£8.15) includes a welcome dish, and drinks start at ¥770 (£5.70). Credit cards are accepted.
Who wouldn’t want to visit a bar owned by a man who collects both goldfish and toys? While the goldfish aren’t residents in quirky bar Karakara, this tiny establishment with just 20 seats (which are old aeroplane and bus seats) boasts an eclectic and unusual array of ornaments. Many of the Shōwa-era toys and memorabilia were donated by early patrons to this odd little bar, with knick-knacks now said to number around 30,000. Drinks are just as unique, with signature cocktails as well as local beverages that come served with sweets and snacks.
A sister company to Bar Ishizue (the shōchū specialist), Roku is another classy establishment with a wide variety of drinks on offer. It has more than 300 types of Japanese rice wine. While not quite as many to choose from as the dizzying collection at Bar Ishizue, it’s enough for you to need the bartender’s advice on what to pick. The bar stocks wine from France, Italy, America and Japan, French brandy, and whisky from five different countries. Gin lovers, look out for Komasa Gin, locally produced with satsumas from Sakurajima, the volcanic island peninsula just across the bay.
Another restaurant and bar combo, Salisbury Pub is a great place for British immigrants and tourists to visit if they want a taste of home. On the menu, you can find classic dishes such as fish and chips, cottage pie, roast beef, nachos and spaghetti. Multi-course menus are also available if you’re going out with a group of friends and want something special. A wide variety of imported beer and wine are on offer, including speciality IPAs. Drink prices are higher than you’d pay at home, but worth it if you’ve got a hankering for something other than shōchū and Asahi. This place has a little bit of everything, including drinks you can’t find anywhere else, and it stocks very little in the way of local beverages.
Beer and burgers, what more could you want? Dolphin Industry has a limited menu, but if a burger is what you’re after, you won’t be disappointed. Highlights include a burger piled high with mac ‘n’ cheese and the very juicy and messy 20 Napkin Burger. The menu also has a local fish burger, Cuban burger and mushroom burger. Prices range between ¥950 and ¥1,600 (£7-11.75), but you’ll be happy to pay top dollar. As one of the first craft-beer bars in Kagoshima, Dolphin Industry brews its own beer and has five speciality brews on tap. If you can’t decide, order the triple tasting pack, which is a small glass of your top three choices.
Described as a bookshop, café, gallery, live-music venue and shop, Retroft Chitose is a unique and interesting place. The space is modern and bright, with a funky Scandi-style interior that looks like it was fitted out by IKEA. Grab a snack or check the schedule to see what evening events are coming up. It acts as a hub for the art community in Kagoshima and is a quirky place to check out and grab drinks with friends.