When Japan’s city dwellers look to escape the stifling summer heat, they head to the beaches of Yuigahama and Zaimokuza. And when they come, scores of beach bars pop up all over the sands of Sagami Bay. Yet, while those pop-up seaside shacks shut up shop outside of July and August, the rest of Kamakura’s nightlife doesn’t.
Kamakura might be a fraction of the size of Tokyo an hour to its north, but its bar scene is similarly diverse. Old-school tachinomiya standing bars and whiskey-loving watering holes have been joined by American-style craft beer bars and stylish Western-style pubs. After a long day baking on the beach or hiking to hillside temples, visitors have no shortage of places to quench their thirst. Jazz clubs, brew pubs, natural wine bars, even an antique shop that transforms into a moody cocktail joint when the sun goes down — read on to discover to the 10 best bars in Kamakura.
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Neighbouring the Hasedera temple in the west of Kamakura, Bar Kelpie’s cocktail menu changes with the seasons, utilising fruits and other fresh ingredients from around the Shōnan region. In winter, that means mulled wine and clam chowder. In summer, that means concoctions made of sweet plums and strawberries. Bar Kelpie’s dapper tie-wearing mixologists also spend the warmer months creating cocktails at the upscale Riviera Zushi Marina resort, home to some of the city’s most exclusive seaside soirées.
Magnetico’s bright orange awning sticks out in this quieter corner of Kamakura, just north of the main tourist area but only a couple of blocks from the city’s most important shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū. This laid-back non-smoking bar opened in 2015, delivering rustic reggae vibes on the stereo and in the fit-out, Asian-style soul food on the menu (fried chicken, anyone?), and a rotating selection of local craft beers on the four taps. Check their Instagram to see which micro-brews are scribbled on the chalkboard for today.
Welcome to Kamakura’s most accessible tachinomiya, or standing bar – a uniquely Japanese tradition of pint-sized watering holes that are standing room only. Bar Ram is a mere three metres by three metres (10ft by 10ft) with a hole under the counter for the staff to sneak through, hidden behind a yellow wall in a covered passageway between Komachi-dōri and Wakamiya Ōji where bar-hoppers will find other tiny tachinomiya to squeeze into. Classic rock provides both the decor and the soundtrack – Led Zeppelin posters, Jimi Hendrix portraits and Rolling Stones vinyls cover the walls – and Bar Ram even hosts live music, although it’s difficult to see where they’d fit the musicians. Visit their website for the gig guide.
A stroll down the alleyway from Bar Ram, this dimly lit jazz den feels like a piece of New York or New Orleans transplanted on the other side of the Pacific. The wooden decor, candle-lit bar and wall of whiskeys set the tone for an evening of jazz, which Daphne hosts six nights a week (closed Wednesday). As well as a roster of Japan’s most talented jazz artists, Daphne hosts monthly free events, live lunchtime sessions and jams until 3am on Midnight Daphne evenings. Check the website for gigs and cover charges.
Metres from Kamakura station’s east exit, Rudy Brew delivers what it promises on the black-and-white sign dangling over the laneway outside: craft beer and good eats. Opened in February 2019 next door to the trendy Tane Roastery Coffee, this unapologetically American craft beer bar serves some of the best micro-brews imported from the States and sourced from around Japan, with nine cherry-picked drops on tap – the ever-rotating beer menu is updated daily on Instagram. The food continues the American theme – open wide for hot wings, taquitos and Philly cheese steaks.
By day, Milk Hall sells a collection of centuries-old wardrobes, ceramics and other homewares from the Meiji and Taisho eras, which can be perused alongside a coffee, tea or lunch from the set menu. By night, the venue transforms into a sultry cocktail joint, with wood panelling on the walls and modern jazz on the speakers. Just north of Kamakura station en route to the Jufuku-ji and Eishō-ji Buddhist temples, this tea room/antique shop/moody watering hole is also one of Kamakura’s more affordable bars, with drinks from ¥500 (£3.50).
While the beach bars close outside of summer, this beer hall delivers bright and breezy beach vibes year-round. Just south of Hase station on the stroll to the sands of Yuigahama, Kamakura Garage became another slick addition to the city’s nightlife in 2018, with its beachy West Coast fit-out and Western menu. The venue plates up American comfort food – think Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and gumbo – alongside ice-cold pints out of the eight taps pouring brews from around Japan and the States. There’s also a second location in Fujisawa, a short train trip west.
Only seconds from Kamakura station’s west exit lies perhaps the city’s premier wine bar. Owner Hidefumi Ishii curates a formidable collection of naturally made wine – as well as beer, sake and cider – including some house-made drops. The home-made flavour extends to the snacky food menu, as well as the atmosphere at the long communal table beneath the homely wooden ceiling and warm dangling lights, which all provide a cosy backdrop for a glass of natural wine.
This brewpub is a few train stops north of Kamakura on the doorstep of the Ōfuna station, but it’s worth the short trip for the frothy goodness flooding out of the taps. The secret to Kirin’s super-foamy beers is a technique dubbed three-pouring, where the braumeister first swills the glass full of froth, then slowly fills it twice more with liquid to leave a thick layer of bubbles at the top in a bid to remove the beer’s bitterness and release its natural aroma and flavour. A meat-heavy menu partners the three-poured pints, and there’s even a frozen beer cocktail made with blackcurrant, orange and grapefruit. Beer-lovers might also want to tackle the all-you-can-drink option from ¥4000 (£28).
The comfy vintage furniture is the star of the show at Univibe, a roomy bar decked out with armchairs and lounges that look like they’ve been borrowed from an episode of The Brady Bunch. Just two blocks south of Kamakura station – look for the neon rising sun above the door – ascend the stairs to the airy loft area and choose something from the shelves of spirits and the mouthwatering bar snack menu. Keema curry is the house specialty, finished off with a selection of sweet treats.
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