Regarded as Japan’s national drink, and increasingly promoted to a growing number of fans overseas, it is no wonder why many foreign residents and visitors are interested to learn more about sake. Sake brewery visits are a great way to jump into the world of sake, yet so too is finding a sake lovers’ hangout to learn directly from the staff or a fellow sake-loving patron. Major cities are sure to have dozens of places to taste sake—and Sendai is no exception. Even still, sake bar and izakaya “Hatago” (旅籠) stands out as one of the favorites among locals and travelers for its stylish interior, expansive collection of sake labels, and friendly staff who are eager to talk sake with both veterans and first timers.
Hatago is located on the third floor of a yellow building hugging the picturesque, tree-lined Jozenji-dori Avenue. Step through the cave-like ground entrance decorated in sake bottles and a wall of sake labels, then march up the stairs. Enter the sake oasis. A long wooden bar counter and several tables in the dining area are housed in a cozy interior playing jazz music. Fancy wine-like glasses used to serve sake hang above the bar, while sake bottles on top of and behind the bar display their gorgeous labels. One of the best features in terms of atmosphere or setting is the full length window behind the bar commanding a view of the rows of mature zelkova trees and busy pedestrians below. This also means Hatago is in the perfect location to view the “Pageant of Starlight” illumination each December.
Owner, manager, and sake sommelier Aoya Tsukasa opened Hatago in 2014. The sake menu features a rotating selection of around 50 different sake carefully chosen from breweries across Japan by Aoya-san. He often visits breweries himself and befriends the sake makers, so he can speak confidently about all the sake on the menu. If you’re not sure what to drink, just give some hints like “I want a dry and smooth sake” and Aoya-san will soon deliver. The wide variety features all the major types of sake (i.e. junmai, daiginjo) as well as many fun surprises like sparkling, aged, unfiltered and a few original sake cocktails. There are always several sake from Miyagi Prefecture, so you can enjoy local flavors as well. Speaking of flavor, how about the food?
The izakaya menu has a heavy focus on Japanese food items that tend to pair well with certain types of sake. Cheese marinated in miso, slices of fresh sashimi, and hot-off-the-grill rolled omelet were the selections on my last visit. A few Sendai inspired dishes also dot the menu, such as the Sendai gyutan hamburg steak. Food is handmade, so don’t expect speedy chain restaurant service. Enjoy the atmosphere while leisurely sipping your sake--the delicious food is worth the wait.
After your sake and food fill at Hatago, those looking to explore the city’s nightlife should head to Tohoku’s largest entertainment district “Kokubuncho” literally just steps away.
Hatago business hours: Mon-Sat 17:00-24:00, closed Sundays.