I just spent eight days in Berlin and I thought I’d share with you the best German pub I’ve ever been to. It’s got great draught beer, good greasy pub food, the typical stale beer pub smell, a kitschy tile mural of a Bavarian family straight out of the 1930’s and it’s packed full of Japanese locals.
You see, this fantastic pub is actually in Tokyo, in the heart of the Ginza district. The Sapporo Lion Beer Hall is the oldest beer restaurant in Tokyo and is stuck amongst the high-end shopping that Ginza is so famed for. Walking into the pub is a little like walking into the twilight zone: it looks German, it smells German but there isn’t a German in sight.
Busy throughout the week but uber popular on the weekends, we waited about 15 minutes for a table. Ordering is simple, even if your Japanese skills are limited: just order Sapporo draught (this particular beer hall is sponsored by the brand) and katsu don (a kind of Japanese equivalent to schnitzel).
The crowd is loud, the beer flows, the food is greasy and everyone seems to be in a red-faced jolly mood as Japanese salary-people cut loose after work. Most are dressed in suits, the occasional group has brought their children and 75% are smoking, though the room doesn’t appear overly smoky.
A few pints in, we’ve polished off the pork and possibly the most bizarre sight I’ve ever witnessed begins to unfold in front of me: two men in lederhosen and three girls in classic Bavarian dress wander out from the back of the pub, accordion and bells in hand. These five Japanese workers, who I’m certain speak not a lick of English, start pounding out classic Bavarian drinking songs and soon have the entire pub singing along with them.
I’m not sure whether it was the beer, the MSG or the second-hand smoke, but we were howling with laughter and singing shortly thereafter. And just as quickly as they appeared, they disappeared after three songs, and the pub reverted back to the loud murmur of 10 minutes earlier. I had to ask my buddy the next day if what we'd seen had actually happened. He wasn’t sure either, but it sure was fun.
Beer Note: As I mentioned, I just spent a week in Berlin and sampled all sorts of famed German beer. I’m here to tell you – again – the best beer in the world is made in Japan. Asahi draught. Check it out. Cool, crisp, with an aftertaste that won’t leave you wincing or pucker-faced, but may have you singing Bavarian folksongs.