Yokohama 開港 Great Beer Pub Crawl

I was totally overwhelmed by Yokohama the first time I visited. I was writing for a travel guide and had just spent three days reviewing Kamakura, a more manageable city in terms of transportation options, sites, and accommodation. When I got to Yokohama Station, the sheer number of train lines, hotels, department stores, and restaurants was a total shock – I had no idea what to cover and what to ignore, no ability to distinguish between the signal and the noise. At one point I walked out of the west side of the station and there was a homeless guy standing just under an awning, pissing freely out into the falling rain.

So let’s just say that Yokohama has been an acquired taste.

I’ve done most of the acquiring since I moved to Tokyo in 2008. When I discovered that Yokohama Station was only 15 minutes away by train (I miraculously live exactly halfway between Tokyo and Yokohama), I quickly opened Chuwy’s boozelist and found that Cheers and Thrash Zone were close by and that Thrash was serving Arrogant Bastard on tap. Since then the Yokohama Station scene has grown on me. I’ve always thought that the people in Yokohama Station have a slightly different demeanor and atmosphere than people in other places in Greater Kanto, and I think I’ve finally realized why: Yokohama Station is an enormous transportation hub on the same scale as Tokyo Station, but there aren’t as many tourists (both foreign and domestic). It’s a mass confusion of people, but almost everyone knows where they’re going – There is purpose in Yokohama.

I also love that you can prefix anything with 開港 and instantly evoke a Yokohama theme.

I’ve wanted to check out the rest of the Yokohama great beer scene for a while now, but I only got around to it this past weekend. I went to three new bars and two old ones and produced the following video:

Yokohama 開港 Great Beer Pub Crawl from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

Craft Beer Bar

Of the three new bars I went to for this crawl, Craft Beer was easily my favorite. The bar is down a narrow side street just a few blocks from Kannai Station. There are about 10 counter seats and two tables. It’s a small place, but extremely stylish: lots of dark hardwood around the bar, a stack of shibori in the bathroom instead of hand towels, and the super-thin Kimura “usu-hari” glassware makes it feel like you are drinking a pint of beer out of thin air. The guy who runs the place dresses formally, which adds to the atmosphere, and pours a very generous pint – if you’re looking for foam, you’ll have to search elsewhere.

This was also my first realization that there is a significant difference between Tokyo and Yokohama pricing. All pints at Craft Beer are 1000 yen, and glasses are 700 yen. I ordered a Swan Lake Belgian IPA, which I believe cost me over 1200 yen at the Bulldog last month.

All of the beer is from local Japanese craftbeer companies, and in addition to the 10 Japanese beers on tap, two of which are hand pumps, there is a ridiculous selection of scotch.

Final Answer: A very friendly little bar with lots of regular customers. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a quiet place to enjoy some ji-biiru.

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Full Monty

Less than a block from Yokohama Stadium is Full Monty, a British-style pub with much more space than Craft Beer and more options on the food menu. There are couches, counters, and tables for seating, and the menu is filled with tasty food like fish and chips, steak and chips, meat pie and chips, spam egg sausage spam bacon and chips, etc. I only ordered a basket of chips myself – which was 500 yen yet generously filled with piping hot crinkly-cut chips – but the fish and chips looked seriously tasty as did the meat pie. I think my next venture to Yokohama will be dinner at Full Monty followed by beers at Craftbeer.

Full Monty has a half dozen beers with regulars like Guinness, Hobgoblin, Bass, and Super Dry, but there are also a few guest beers, which Saturday night were Rogue Yellow Snow IPA, Shakespeare Stout, and Fuller’s Jack Frost. The price point is very nice, as it was at Craftbeer. 1000 yen for an almost frighteningly large Imperial Pint of London Pride. Other regular beers were the same, with smaller sizes for 800 and 600 yen. Guest beers were slightly pricier, I believe, at 1000 yen for the medium size (which may be a US pint).

Final Answer: Great place to go with a group and definitely offers the best food of any of the beer bars in Yokohama.

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Pivovar may not feel like a bar at first, especially if there is a wedding reception taking place upstairs as there often is. Don’t be shy, though – go on in. The second floor is a large space for the restaurant Umaya no Shokutaku, which is also the name on the sign outside. The first floor is a very small bar with two counters. All the brewing equipment is viewable through the glass behind the bar.

Both of the times I have been to Pivovar there was a wedding second party taking place, so I can’t attest to the quality and cost of food, but the beer was excellent value. All of the beers are brewed on-site by Yokohama Brewing and served in three sizes – 950 yen for a giant 600+ mL mug, 700 yen for a smaller goblet, and 500 yen for a glass. Be a man, man – go for the big one.

They had a nice selection of beers including their pilsner, chocolate stout, chocolate stout rich (which they call スタリッチ), Dragon Splash India Pale Lager, Iron Claw IPA and more. All of the beers are the same price, which seems insane to me – it must cost so much more to make beers like the 9.5% ABV Scorpion Deathlock IPA (do you get the wrestling theme yet?).

Overall the ales run a little sweet, as do many Japanese ji-biiru, so go with a lager and don’t make the mistake I did. Don’t get me wrong. The stout was good, but not as the third of five on a night. Should’ve gone with the pilsner.

Final Answer: The best value for the serving size in Yokohama but a small space and slightly lower quality of beer overall. Not bad for a young brewery, though. Hopefully they’ll mature well.

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The first time I went to cheers I ordered the hummus, and the Israeli chef came out to congratulate me for making the correct choice. Unfortunately he no longer works there, but the hummus and baba ghanoush are both still on the menu. They also have a sausage plate for 850 yen – the cheapest I’ve seen in Japan, and the serving size isn’t bad either.

Due to time constraints, I took the train from Sakuragicho to Yokohama Station, from which Cheers is a quick walk. They have a reasonable amount of space – about a dozen counter seats and then tables sectioned off in different parts of the restaurant.

The beer selection is printed on a flashcard-style menu and can be a bit difficult to interpret, but they always have Belgians on tap rounded out with a ji-biiru or two. Of all the bars in Yokohama, this is the only one with Belgian beer on tap, so if you’re I went with the Shonan Weiss, which was good but a little sweet. I prefer my weissen drier and a bit more peppery.

By far the highlight of Cheers is it’s variety of events. They have anniversary parties, going away parties for staff, and more. Usually these events are 3000-5000 yen for all-you-can-drink. The third anniversary party was amazing – there were 12 beers total, and I have vague memories of passing around a 5L glass of Hoegaarden.

Final Answer: The nice variety of munchies alone makes this bar worth a visit, and generally there’s something interesting on tap. I just wish the menu was easier to read!

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Thrash Zone

Thrash Zone can be a dangerous place if you’re not careful. They maintain an impressive selection of only the hoppiest, most aggressive import and domestic craftbeers, and they sell them at very affordable prices. Relatively speaking, of course. Ballast Point’s acclaimed Sculpin IPA costs only 1100 yen, whereas in Tokyo it generally starts at 1200 yen. Many bars charge as much as 1500 yen.

All together there are 10 beers on tap, usually a murderer’s row of famous West Coast breweries like Green Flash, Ballast Point, Great Divide, and Stone in addition to the local interpretations on intense American styles.

Thrash Zone also has impressive events. They were the first bar in Japan to serve Bear Republic beers on tap, and to commemorate the occasion they gave away free pint glasses, provided snacks, and had a lottery for t-shirts, hats, and six-packs of Bear Republic beer. They regularly contract brew original recipes through Atsugi Beer. These are powerful concoctions, well deserving of names like “Simcoe, Bloody Simcoe” and “Hop Slave.”

As the name suggests, the theme of the bar is Heavy Metal, but the music is never too loud, and Katsuki-san is one of the nicest bartenders in the world. Don’t let his quiet and polite demeanor fool you, though – he is a hophead and metalhead at heart and has thrashed live on stage with some of the finest bands.

Final Answer: A great place to satisfy a hop craving, enjoy some wicked metal chops, and then return to the madness that is Yokohama Station.

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2 thoughts on “Yokohama 開港 Great Beer Pub Crawl

  1. Nicely done.
    But who was that weird looking guy in the red shirt?
    I think I saw him at at least 3 bars!
    Pivo was interesting but the guy opened up late.
    Me and two other Japanese beer geeks were waiting outside at 6pm-6:20.
    The urquel was good and at 950yen for 500ml, the best value in Japan.
    Not as good as I remembered it though. A tad too creamy and gassy but as good as or better than anywhere else.
    The thing I love about his place is his attention to detail.All the correct glass wear, al chilled, all the temps of the beers controlled and even on the website!
    Features pilsner urquel (good beer but not what it used to be, before they changed it and before the big multinational corporation bought them (spits), urquel master semi dark, cozel dark, bernard dark. One or two beers changes occasionally. The Czech dark beers or cerny can seem quite thin and sweet, caramelly sweet. Not my cup of tea but I do like the pilsners. Gambrinus is malty good and kozel is very nice. Buvar a tad drier but all good stuff and thirst quenchingly good!
    A good bar but the location is a pin in the ass, so it merits at least 2 pints, considering the time it takes you to get there and back. Small but interesting menu featuring small dishes like sausages and cheese and some thing I assumed were Czech style.
    Space for about a dozen.
    Nice small clean place, furnished in a pine wood like finish.
    Keep an eye out for Gareth Edwards, if you are drinking there!
    Best scrum half in the world!

    Hope you get the chance to head out there. Definitely need 2 pints at least there!
    If you fancy some Czech beer, let me know!

    Good entry.

  2. This will be filed away. Unlike you, I loved Yokohama from day one – and my wife does too – potential future residential destination if all goes well!

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