The city of Sapporo is synonymous with beer. The brewery that borrows its name has been producing the amber liquid since 1876, making Sapporo the oldest beer brand in Japan. But the booze scene in Hokkaido’s capital has certainly evolved in the century and a half since.
South of Odori Park, Susukino is the heartbeat of Sapporo’s nightlife. The biggest nightlife precinct north of Tokyo pulses with more than 4,000 bars, restaurants and Pachinko gambling parlours, including Sapporo’s hottest watering holes. In fact, with the notable exception of the historic Sapporo Beer Museum, every bar on this list sits within 10 minutes’ walk of Susukino Station. Home to quiet whiskey joints, contemporary craft beer bars and Cancun-inspired nightclubs, let’s raise a glass to the 10 best bars and pubs in Sapporo, Japan.
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The Sapporo Beer Museum breathed new life into an old red-brick brewery near Naebo Station in 1987, inviting visitors for a free tour of Japan’s brewing history with the option to pay for a beer tasting at the end. But next door to the museum itself lies the Sapporo Beer Garden, which contains five different beer halls to sip on some of the product. Kessel Hall is the top choice – order the all-you-can-drink beer deal with the all-you-can-eat jingisukan (barbecued mutton), a Hokkaido specialty.
If Bar Yamazaki isn’t this city’s most famous cocktail joint, it’s certainly the most quaint. Yamazaki Ichiro – the mixologist who gave his name to this old-school venue – ran this place for more than half a century, picking up a swag of international bartending awards along the way. He was even the first bartender to receive the Emperor’s Imperial Prize in 1993. Yamazaki died in 2016 aged 96, but his legend lives on through his original cocktails – try the prize-winning Sapporo, an alcoholic homage to the Hokkaido capital. The classic atmosphere comes with a price tag, tough – expect to pay upwards of ¥1,000 for a tipple.
Halfway between Susukino and Hosui-Susukino Stations, budget-conscious boozers flock to 500 Bar for their cut-price cocktails. No cover charge and dirt-cheap drinks guarantee that this pint-sized American-themed venue is packed to the rafters seven nights a week. One warning, though: the ¥500 price point that gave this place its name has been made a misnomer by tax hikes – drinks are now ¥540 (still only about £4). Bargain.
Away from the craziness of Susukino and closer to Nakajima-Koen Station, Beer Inn Mugishutei has forged a reputation as Sapporo’s pre-eminent craft beer bar since it opened in 1980. This brewpub serves more than 300 beers from 50-plus countries, including owner Phred Kaufman’s Ezo label, produced by Portland’s renowned Rogue Brewery. Don’t miss the Hascup Ale, made with local berries that are unique to Hokkaido. With old beer cans and bottles covering every spare patch of wall space, the food menu is as eclectic as the decor – Australian meat pies, sea urchin ice cream and American burgers partner the pints.
Every night at 11pm, so-called flair bartenders strut their stuff at Flair Bar Es, dazzling drinkers with their circus-standard tricks with bottles of spirits in hand. And those performances aren’t the only reason to visit Sapporo’s sole flair bar in the heart of Susukino. Old Nintendo consoles furnish the booths in the corner of this roomy watering hole, dishing up a dose of Donkey Kong alongside a Dark ’n’ Stormy. The cocktail list is more than 100 drinks deep and there’s an all-you-can-drink option for thirsty visitors planning to make a serious dent in the menu.
The larger-than-life Aztec face on the exterior of King Xmhu welcomes party people to Susukino’s favourite nightclub. And the colourful tribal design keeps the Cancun vibes flowing inside, too. Sapporo can’t match Tokyo’s world-class dance clubs, but King Xmhu wouldn’t look out of place in the Japanese capital thanks to its themed parties, three crowded levels and programme of big-name DJs playing beneath a blanket of lasers, smoke blasts and elaborate light shows. VIP table service, bottomless drink deals and women-only happy hours keep big crowds coming back to a venue that could have been transplanted straight out of Mexico.
Sapporo’s best jazz bar was opened by the late, great pianist, Ryo Fukui in 1995, whose friendship with Barry Harris brought the American icon to Hokkaido for several shows. Ryo passed away in 2016 but this bar leaves a large legacy. Slow Boat hosts two sessions each night, one at 8.30pm and another at 10pm – guests pay a cover charge as well as a fee to the musicians. Arrive early to grab a seat in this intimate, dimly lit space, which sits midway between Tanuki Koji and Susukino Stations.
Straddling the seven-block Tanukikoji Shopping Street, Beer Bar North Island is dedicated to showing off Hokkaido’s top microbrews. Founded in 2003 by a pair of college buddies who discovered their passion for craft beer studying in Canada, this small but chic venue serves six North Island creations – pilsner, weizen, brown ale, coriander black, stout and IPA – alongside a rotating roster of drops from around Japan’s northernmost island. Bar snacks complement the beers, which begin around the ¥1,000 mark.
Opened by some of the staff behind Tokyo queer institution Arty Farty, Bar Sign Oh! has been waving the rainbow flag in Sapporo since 2011. In fact, this crowd-pleaser extends such a warm welcome to visitors that they even provide LGBT-flavoured tourist information alongside their drinks. Bar Sign Oh! also boasts lofty vistas from the fifth floor of the SA Building, plus pop tunes on the dance floor, which pumps until the very last party animal goes home in the wee hours of the morning. Karaoke joint Bar Hammer and lesbian venue Bar Orb are Sapporo’s other favourite LGBT bars.
Sapporo’s most popular expat hangout lives next door to the Mercure Hotel on Route 36 east of Susukino Station – just spot the piranha above the door. TK36 has seven big screens showing sport from every corner of the globe, as well as a food menu that’s every bit as international – scoff burgers, pies, tacos, fish and chips, onion rings, calamari and anything else you’d expect to find on a menu in the United States. With imported beers on tap, the closest thing to anything Japanese here is the edamame beans on the snack menu.
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