Nightlife in Hakodate: Old World Cocktails and Classy Whisky

Coastal Hakodate is Hokkaido’s third largest city and indeed, no stranger to tourists. The town is known for the abundance of fresh seafood caught from its pristine waters. Each morning, at the Asaichi Morning Market locals and visitors alike can taste the catch of the day. From raw uni (sea urchin roe) freshly scooped from their spindly shells to giant red hairy crabs to oysters grilled over charcoal, the market is a foodie’s paradise and a photographer’s dream.
[caption id="attachment_1736" align="alignnone" width="1000"]
Fresh crab at the Asaichi Morning Market- by Simone Chen[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1737" align="alignnone" width="1000"]
Foodie’s paradise - by Simone Chen[/caption]
Though visitors can find plenty to do during the day with eating delicious seafood and enjoying the panoramic views atop Mount Hakodate, what is there to do after dark for the nightlife seekers? That is, other than the typical karaoke bars and late night ramen shops. Two bars stand out from the crowd. Both are unassuming on the outside, but offer visitors a unique and unforgettable experience that will open your eyes to the warm and friendly people of Hakodate. Bar Suginoko boasts an impressive lineup of original cocktails, along with a dose of Hakodate history. Bar Jeys’ selection of whiskeys would make even the most demanding Scot proud, served up in a well-appointed, luxurious setting.
[caption id="attachment_1742" align="alignnone" width="1000"]
Motoko and Takafumi owners of Suginoko - by Simone Chen[/caption]
Locals speak of Bar Suginoko with a bit of reverence. Established in 1958 by Yasuro Suginome, the business is one of the longest continuous running bars in Hakodate. Starting off as a cabaret venue,  then changing to a cozy bar, a recent move down the street, and the passing of Master Yasuro san, throughout its history one thing has remained consistent: its loyal customers. With this in mind, when Yasuro-san passed away, his daughter Motoko Aoi decided to take the reigns. Maintaining much of the old-world touches of her father’s bar – including the original counter and many of his signature cocktails – Motoko san has successfully kept the torch burning. The spirit and energy of the original bar are present, but she has added her own business sense to the mix. She and husband Tatsufumi Aoi are the owners and operators today.
[caption id="attachment_1740" align="alignnone" width="1000"]
Motoko Aoi making cocktails at Suginoko - by Simone Chen[/caption]
The selection of cocktails at Suginoko is a mixture of old, new, classic and inventive. Whatever your taste, you will find something outstanding. Motoko san points out a drink created by her father, the Rum Highball. Just 60 yen during his day the drink is still incredibly a mere 250 yen! Motoko and Tatsufumi's original cocktail creations also populate the extensive drinks menu. Conjuring reveries of a blue lagoon, the Kaitan-shi Jokei cocktail is a lightly sweetened drink with an anise finish, (a blend of Hypnotic, Sambuca, and white rum). Named after a famous movie with ties to Hakodate, this is one of the bar’s bestsellers.
[caption id="attachment_1741" align="alignnone" width="1000"]
Blue Lagoon at Suginoko - by Simone Chen[/caption]
Another delightful concoction is the Mashu-maru, named after a Sekan railway ferry that operated between Hokkaido and Honshu until 1988. Today, the boat sits in the Hakodate harbor as a museum. With a blend of rum, Curaçao, lemon and a splash of vermouth, the drink is balanced and strong.
[caption id="attachment_1743" align="alignnone" width="1000"]
Hakodate's retired Mashu-maru railway ferry - by Simone Chen[/caption]
The ultimate advocates of Hakodate living, Motoko and Tatsufumi speak lovingly of the small town feel, clean air, and good eats that abound. They speak some English and love to practice with their customers. Stop in at Suginoko for a few fantastic cocktails and a dose of Hakodate warmth and history!
[caption id="attachment_1749" align="alignnone" width="1000"]
In honor of Yasuro Suginome, the original owner - By Simone Chen[/caption]
A hidden gem, BarJey’s is truly one of the best-kept secrets in Hakodate. Elegantly appointed and classy this cocktail bar serves the best whiskey. Rows and rows of glowing bottles line the backlit glass shelves behind the warm oak counter.
[caption id="attachment_1745" align="alignnone" width="1000"]
Backlit at Bar Jey's - by Simone Chen[/caption]
Owner Shigeyoshi Ogasawara has curated an extensive selection of whiskeys—his passion. Smartly dressed in a crisp white shirt, vest, and bowtie, he will help you select a whiskey, or a cocktail, based on your preferences. Shigeyoshi-san recommended trying a reserve single-malt 12-year Nikka Whiskey called Yoichi which is currently sold out on the market. In fact, many Shiegeyoshi san's bottles are reserves or hard-to-find vintages.
[caption id="attachment_1747" align="alignnone" width="1000"]
Shigeyoshi-san of Bar Jey's - by Simone Chen[/caption]
Bar Jey's  has also perfected all the cocktail classics. The list includes favorites such as Manhattans, mojitos, martinis, some house specialty concoctions and many whiskey cocktails. On a recent visit I tried the mojito, made with freshly muddled mint. It was bright and refreshing, just what I needed after a long day walking around the city.
[caption id="attachment_1744" align="alignnone" width="1000"]
Mojito at Bar Jey's - by Simone Chen[/caption]
You cannot help but feel cool and sophisticated while sitting at Bar Jey’s. With the clink of glass every now and then, the shaking of a tumbler, and the classic jazz tracks that croon over the sound system, Bar Jey is class all the way. Come to this  great, intimate spot to unwind, chat with the kind and personable Shigeyoshi-san and let go of any stress from your day of travels.

Browse Simone's other hidden gems

Simone Chen