Squeeze into the tiny standing-only bars in the bustling commuter hub of Sannomiya, or sip on something expensive in the historic district of Kitano at these top bars in Kobe.
Smaller in size than neighbouring Osaka, Kobe is one of Japan’s most cosmopolitan cities, home to world-famous beef, some of the best dessert shops in the country and a thriving jazz scene. It was one of the first ports in Japan to open up to foreign trade, with international influences reflected in the city’s bar and restaurant scene. Get cosy and rub elbows with Kobe residents at tiny standing-only bars, known in Japanese as tachinomi, or try sophisticated cocktails in up-scale Kitano, an area filled with Western-style mansions that once belonged to wealthy merchants.
Locally sourced ingredients are the order of the day at In Tha Door Brewing, a local watering hole for fans of craft beer. Situated in Kobe’s central Sannomiya district, In Tha Door always has between five and seven beers available on tap. Its brews are produced using natural spring water drawn from the streams of nearby Mount Rokko, which are bursting with rich minerals that result in a unique tasting beer. This bar also works with nearby farmers to create seasonally flavoured brews using locally grown fruits. You can also try its bread beer, which uses dried leftover bread instead of malt, sourced from nearby bakeries that would have otherwise thrown it away.
Tucked away on the third floor of a nondescript building in Kobe’s Chūō ward, Sweets Bar Ashioto oozes sophistication from the moment you step off the elevator, where staff dressed formally in black ties and waistcoats greet you. For the best views, take a seat at the 16-person counter to observe the bartenders prepare desserts, such as rich chocolate fondant, bitter matcha mousse or parfait served in champagne glasses. Each dessert has a recommended pairing cocktail carefully selected by the staff. One of the signature options here is the flaming crêpe suzette with vanilla ice cream, matched with the sappari (refreshing) cocktail infused with blood orange, lemon and grapefruit.
In downtown Sannomiya, you’ll find The Cave Kobe, a basement bar with a British influence. The friendly owner, Yocchin, is a huge fan of The Beatles and regularly travels to the UK to perform at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. At The Cave, he has attempted to replicate the original atmosphere of the Cavern Club for Japanese fans, decorating it with British antiques and memorabilia. Stop by on the weekends when, for a small charge, you can catch live music from some of Japan’s best Beatles cover bands. As for beverages, there is a wide range of whiskeys on offer; however, it’s the gin and tonics that are the biggest hit with regulars.
Kobe is known as the birthplace of jazz in Japan, and although the city is home to several live-jazz bars, Sone is one of the most popular establishments, featuring four live sets every day of the week. Operating since 1969, this family-owned jazz bar is housed within a former ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) in the Kitano district, with a range of Japanese and Scotch whiskeys on offer, in addition to cocktails, beer and wine. Check its website for the latest schedule of performances and cover charges.
Beer gardens are often associated with summertime in Japan; however, as a bar with outdoor seating that’s open all year round, The Ember Room is a rare find in Kobe. This contemporary designed bar is a short walk from Motomachi Station. A popular rooftop party spot, this bar attracts people with its chilled-out vibe and sofa seating on the outdoor deck area. Expect a mix of fruity cocktails, wines and bottled beers alongside regular events, such as barbecues and Sunday brunch.
For meat-lovers, it would be considered a crime to visit Kobe and not try the beef for which it is so well known. NIKU SPECIALITE Macra is a small bar located between Sannomiya and Motomachi stations that specialises in wine and meat pairings. The sleek minimalist design features a wooden counter with seating, while the sophisticated atmosphere dictates that mobile phones must be set to silent mode. A large selection of wines is on offer, anywhere between 40 and 50 at any given time. Platters of meat appetisers, including beef, pork, duck and venison, are paired with suitable wines by the staff.
Sake Taru is the world’s first rotating sake lounge, located inside the famous Kobe Port Tower. The red tower’s rotating observation deck is home to this modern sake bar, which is furnished with chandeliers and stools made from recycled sake barrels. Here, you can try more than 40 kinds of sake or nihonshu (as it’s called in Japanese) from the nearby five villages of Nada, the largest sake-producing region in Japan. The tasting menus offer three kinds of sake for ¥1,500 (£11.20), or sip on a seasonal sake cocktail and take in the panoramic city views by night. Bar snacks come in the form of pickles, chocolate or cheese.
Situated in a basement within Kobe’s Kitano district, entering this bar feels like stepping into someone’s living room from the 1980s. Furnished with white leather sofas and dark wood, Kitano Scandal is particularly popular with local whiskey and cigar lovers. Scandal celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019, and although fairly hidden away from street view, the bar has also become popular with tourists who embrace the chance to sample rare whiskeys from around the world at reasonable prices and chat with the friendly suit-clad owner. If you’re not a fan of whiskey, the bartenders will also be happy to make you an original cocktail or one of their popular fruit platters.
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