From the finest sake bars and whisky joints to izakayas and sleek cocktail lounges, Culture Trip enlists the expert knowledge of two of Hiroshima’s bar and restaurant managers to find the best bars the city has to offer.
The city of Hiroshima is home to a vibrant nightlife and bar scene. To discover the very best of what’s on offer, Culture Trip talks to Hiroshima residents and nightlife experts Mark Gardiner (who runs Molly Malone’s) and Ufuk Bostanci (owner of the restaurant, Karsiyaka) for their recommendations of the best bars in Hiroshima.
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Gardiner, who is originally from Galway, Ireland, first settled in Hiroshima in 2002. “Hiroshima has a way of making you stay longer than you intended, more so than other parts of Japan. I know a lot of people who came here for a year who have ended up staying 20 or 30 years now,” he says. Part of the city’s draw is its lively dining and drinking scene. Most of the city’s best bars are small, independently owned establishments operated by a single bar master. It’s these colourful characters who entertain customers while fixing their favourite tipples and who keep people coming back for more.
To experience a modern izakaya (an informal Japanese bar), Gardiner recommends visiting Micks in the Nagarekawa entertainment district. Owned by a Japanese duo from Hiroshima, Micks is a cosy bar seating up to 40 people. The dark wooden interior features counter seating or comfortable floor cushions resting on the tatami floors. It’s a great spot for late-night drinks and eats, as it’s open until 3am. English menus are available, and diners can choose from the Japanese option, which features sashimi, tempura and rice dishes, or the Western version, which has fish and chips, salads and carpaccio. All-you-can-drink menus are also available if you’re feeling up for a big night out.
A well-established drinking spot in Hiroshima, Molly Malone’s is a classic Irish bar that has been around since 2002. With a lively atmosphere that never gets too rowdy, you’ll often find local musicians performing Irish music in one of its regular live sessions. Happy hour runs from 5pm to 7pm Tuesday to Saturday, while outside of these times, you can expect to pay around ¥1,000 (£6.90) for a pint of Guinness and ¥850 (£5.90) for beer. For non-beer drinkers, a large selection of highballs and cocktails are also available. As for dining, the in-house Irish chef serves up wholesome comfort food such as Sunday roasts and fish and chips. Male customers can famously take advantage of the views of the streets of Hiroshima from the men’s toilets.
A spot for night owls, and one of Hiroshima’s more spacious establishments in the Nagarekawa district, Step 1 draws an international crowd and is one of the few bars in the city with space for dancing. Bostanci describes it as a disco bar. “If you go early, there are not many customers, so stop by after midnight for the best atmosphere.” On the weekends, the bar’s owner and DJ, Johnny Tsunami, spins Latin dance tunes, so you can dance the night away from when the last train leaves the city at around midnight until the first trains start back up at 5am. Most of the drinks are very well priced, with a large selection of cocktails that start from ¥500 (£3.50) each.
One of Gardiner’s top recommendations for travellers is Mac Bar, saying it’s “like an institution in Hiroshima. It has been on the go for almost 50 years and was the first foreigner-friendly bar in the city.” (A lot of bars in Japan are open to regulars only.) The dive bar’s current location has moved a little further off the beaten drinking path in recent years and is now off the Hondori pedestrian shopping street. “Although not as busy as before, it’s still a cool visit for its music collection alone,” says Gardiner. “You name any song, and they’ll have it found within a minute, and it’ll be cued up. They have thousands of CDs on shelves behind the bar.”
Bostanci suggests going to The Shack, which he says is “particularly popular with young Americans” due to its US-inspired menu and decor. Electric guitars and vinyl records cover the walls while pool tables create an atmosphere typical of a US sports bar. Conveniently located on Hiroshima’s main Hondori shopping street, happy hour runs from 6pm to 9pm on a selection of cocktails, and there’s also a wide range of smoothies available for non-drinkers. Food-wise, there are burgers, pizzas and chicken wings, along with vegetarian options.
For a unique and traditional Japanese experience, try the Kimono and Sake Bar Ofuku in Nagarekawa. It was established over 40 years ago by owner Tanaka-san, who is passionate about preserving Japan’s traditional culture and sharing it with international visitors. For a ¥3,500 (£24.25) charge, guests are fitted out in vintage kimonos before taking a seat at the bar to sample the wide range of sakes on offer. The decor reflects the bar’s traditional theme with its classic Japanese design, featuring shoji paper doors, dark wood furniture and hanging wall scrolls. In addition to premium sakes, beer and cocktails are also available on the drinks menu, along with a selection of Japanese appetisers.
Described as an ‘adult hideaway’ in Hiroshima’s Naka Ward, Bar Alegre offers a more refined, low-key atmosphere than some of the livelier bars in Hiroshima. Run by an award-winning ex-hotel bartender, Bar Alegre serves up seasonal fruit cocktails and offers a wide selection of whiskies. It also has unique and original cocktails, such as the banana and hazelnut dessert cocktail and the Chinese-style bloody mary, which includes tenmenjan (a sweet soybean paste), an ingredient used in Chinese cuisine. Entry to the bar is marked by a large samurai sword that hangs above the door, while the back-lit bar and wooden counter hark back to the 1960s with a sophistication reminiscent of a Mad Men set.
Known as ‘Rev’ to locals, Tropical Bar Revolución is another of Gardiner’s must-visit establishments. “The owner, Nobu, used to work in a few bars around the city when he was younger before opening up his own place,” he says. As soon as the bar opened, Nobu’s loyal customers flocked to it, and his friendly nature means it has remained a firm favourite ever since. Described by the owners as a cocktail bar and pub with a relaxed atmosphere, Rev is situated in Hiroshima’s lively entertainment district of Nagarekawa, and the cityscape views from its eighth-floor balcony are a highlight. Drinks are reasonably priced, and there’s no cover charge. The English-speaking staff will concoct any cocktail you request, but for something with a Japanese twist, try the sakepirinha, a caipirinha mixed with sake.
“People always rave about this place,” says Gardiner of Koba, a cosy rock bar situated between Nakami-Dori and Fukuromachi Park. The bar is owned by local resident Bom, who is renowned for his big personality. The bar’s walls are adorned with classic rock posters and memorabilia, while rock concert videos are projected onto the wall and music from the genre blares out through the speakers. Bom serves up cocktails, beers and sake, along with pizzas and pasta dishes.
Opened in 1987, Otis! is a well-established café and bar owned by Hiroshima local Saeki-san. Situated just a short walk away from the Peace Memorial Park and A-Bomb Dome, this casual bar’s walls are covered with scrawled signatures from visitors from around the world. Otis! has an excellent reputation for its organic Tex-Mex-inspired cuisine and live music performances. A delicious selection of home-made pies and cakes are also on offer, along with vegetarian dishes.
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