Thinking of Hokkaido in winter brings up images of quaint cottages covered with blankets of white snow, or vast white lands surrounded by a sea of drift ice. It also houses one of the ultimate places to be during the cold winter season: Niseko! Famous for its powder snow that feels fresh and soft to the touch, Niseko is world renowned and home to four main ski resorts.
One of which is Grand Hirafu, which is in Hirafu Village. Walking around town, it wouldn’t be strange at all if you thought you were in Australia and not Japan. Almost everyone in the resort and on the street was taking a respite from the heat Down Under, and getting in on the action on the powdery slopes!
As luck would have it, we heard through the grapevine about a local après-ski watering hole that had a tiny little refrigerator door as an entrance. After a day’s worth of skiing and getting battered from snowboarding, we headed from Grand Hirafu down the street toward the main cross-junction of Hirafu Village. On the right was Green Farm Café, that serves up good coffee, cake and vibes. We spent a couple of hours there after some good old snowshoeing fun at Niseko Village.
Continuing on a little more, we spotted the little red fridge door of Gyu Bar that was plastered with quirky bright stickers. It was flanked by two signs that read “Northern Gin Tonic” made with Napue Finnish Gin and Hokkaido berry, and “Take Out Hot Apple Pie” made with vanilla-infused vodka, local apple cider, homemade cinnamon syrup and baked apple bitters. We sure didn’t need another sign to invite us in. In we went from the freezing -4°C cold into… a fridge?
Stooping a little through the 1.5-meter tall door, we emerged on the other side to a cosy, dimly lit speakeasy style bar. The wooden interior had a washed vintage feel. The atmosphere was a warm bustle of merry laughter; with each party lounged into a nook throughout the cozy space. There was also more room upstairs, where there was another bar counter that serviced a less rowdy crowd. With one local beer on tap, there was a wide range of craft bottled beers from Niseko as well as Minoo in Osaka. The variety of sakes, whiskeys, gins and other spirits and liquors was also impressive.
What caught the eye though is the creative, palate-seducing artisan cocktails that the dapper Japanese bartender dressed in a vest shakes up. The bar grub did not disappoint either: Hokkaido shoyu garlic butter fried potatoes, anchovies on toast and fried chicken with hot sauce were on the menu that night.
Overall, the ambiance and quality of food, drink and service were more than good enough for us to want to come back again. Definitely the best place in Niseko from hearty stouts to mellow ales. Just be sure to bring good company!
Check out Voyagin for plenty of Niseko activities!
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