When we find ourselves thirsty in Yokohama, we know exactly where to head. Our latest favorite watering hole in the city is Pivoya, a small pub that specializes exclusively in beer from the Czech Republic. It’s in a quiet, out-of-the-way locale but definitely worth tracking down.
The master of the house, Ryosuke Yonehara, first discovered central Europe, its drinking culture and outstanding lagers in the early 1990s. It was love at first sip. A few years ago he finally cut loose from his company job and set up shop in this simple, intimate pub in the Tennocho district.
This is one of the few places in Japan serving Pilsner Urquell on draft, which is quantitatively better even than the bottled version. Yonehara pours some other uncommon brews too. At present they include Bernard Celebration (both regular and dark lager) and another premium beer from Urquell, a rich, dark extra pils simply called Master, which easily lives up to its name. Each is kept at its own optimum temperature, ensuring that it stays perfectly fresh and is just right for drinking.
Yonehara also rustles up some excellent bar snacks that combine Czech and Japanese influences in equal measure. All are worth trying, especially the German-style sausages and pickles, and his bread plate featuring slices of dark pumpernickel, cream cheese and assorted vegetables.
Pivoya, 1-7-1 Tennocho, Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama-shi; (045) 336-2863; www.pivo-ya.com Open 6 p.m.-12:30 a.m. (Sat. and holidays till midnight); closed Sun. and Mon. (also extra holidays during August); nearest station: Tennocho (Sagami Sotetsu Line); Japanese menu; little English spoken.
Further down the coast in Kanagawa Prefecture, Beer Cafe Hopman is introducing a whole range of craft beers to the Shonan area. This smart new alehouse, which opened in Chigasaki at the end of last month, boasts 21 draft beers — all Japanese, and most of them from lesser-known breweries.
The selection will change at regular intervals, with full details posted on the pub’s blog. Currently, the lineup includes both Yona Yona Real Ale, dispensed from a hand pump, as well as Toshi’s IPA, offering a chance to compare these two fine but contrasting ales developed by one of Japan’s top craft brewers.
These premium beers are matched by the unusual food menu put together by the “Hopman” himself, owner Kousei Tashiro. When we dropped in last week, we crunched on thin-sliced iburigaki (smoked daikon pickles) sandwiched around cream cheese. We enjoyed the Japanese-style pizza ( kujo-negi and shirasu whitebait topping; savory red miso seasoning on the crust). And we loved the shepherd’s pie, made with minced lamb under a layer of rich, creamy mashed potato — one of the best we’ve had in Japan.
Beer Cafe Hopman, Sunlight Shonan 2F, 1-1-23 Jukkenzaka, Chigasaki-shi, Kanagawa-ken; (04670 85-5688; hopman.seesaa.net Open daily 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; nearest station: Chigasaki (JR Tokaido Line); Japanese menu; little English spoken.