Bar/fly: Sapporo, Japan

By Hayden Donnell

Hayden Donnell discovers the dangers - and exhilaration - of Sapporo Beer Garden.
Pay a set fee and you get 100 minutes to down as much local beer, sake and barbecued food as you can stomach. Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Pay a set fee and you get 100 minutes to down as much local beer, sake and barbecued food as you can stomach. Illustration / Rod Emmerson

Sapporo Beer Garden is a smorgasbord for drunks.

The picturesque brick complex in the heart of the north Japanese city boasts two huge restaurants. The Garden Grill is a nice place for a relaxing meal. But the Genghis Khan Hall runs on a different and altogether more dangerous system. Pay a set fee and you get 100 minutes to down as much local beer, sake and barbecued food as you can stomach.

My tour party arrived on a freezing February night. The group included travel agents, a class of people almost as notoriously booze-soaked as journalists. We had spent the past few days exchanging pleasant smiles and polite conversation. This was my chance to dispense with the formalities, defend the reputation of my profession and, most of all, make the set fee into a bargain.

A perilous cocktail of competitiveness and stinginess was swirling in my head as we sat down to order.

I started by confidently eating a couple of pieces of raw beef, thinking it would show my open-mindedness. It turned out we were meant to cook the meat on a heated pan in the centre of the table. I took the beef out of my mouth while no-one was watching and put it down in a bowl of emptied-out crab claws.

Things quickly went downhill. Empty glasses of sake and Sapporo piled up beside a growing mountain of half-eaten crustaceans. New batches of food and drink arrived before we had time to take stock of those that came before.

One of our group members was overcome. She slumped over the table around the 60-minute mark. One-nil to the journalists. By then, I was standing beside our brilliant Japanese tour leader Amy, exhorting her to order more before we hit the 100-minute mark.

It was over in a blur. A quiet word from one of the wait staff and we were trundling out into the cold. I huddled into my jacket and took in the grounds before we left. Drifts of snow had piled up against every wall. Fairy lights hung above the paths linking the two restaurants. A stalactite was forming on the roof above the Genghis Khan Hall, the area around it roped off to stop stumbling drunks falling victim to death from above.

The place was beautiful. We were a mess.

Half the group loaded into taxis and asked to go to the nearest karaoke bar. As the clock ticked toward midnight, I launched into a Taylor Swift song, shouting "I knew you were trouble when you walked in", stupid and defiant in the face of the day to come.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Fly Korean Air from Auckland to Seoul, then catch a transfer flight from Seoul to Sapporo.

Accommodation: Stay at Yama Shizen Niseko.

Further information: See jtboi.co.nz.

The writer travelled courtesy of Korean Air and JTB New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

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