Sugawara Sake Shop is located directly across the pedestrian arcade from the Disney Store, a popular downtown meeting spot in Sendai. Literally thousands of people walk by its doors a day, with only a handful aware of its long history, good selection of sake, and inviting atmosphere. From the outside of the store, you can see several tobacco advertisements over the entrance, and a walk-up window selling lottery tickets. While of course anyone can purchase these items, the real hidden gem of the Sugawara Sake Shop is its standing bar.
Duck through the red noren curtains hanging over the entrance and take a step up to the wooden counter top bar. You'll quickly be greeted by the staff and any customers. It's the kind of place where locals mingle and welcome new faces. The bar has room for just a handful of people and is standing only. This fact actually makes it an attractive place to stop by for several reasons: 1) you don't have to pay any seating charge which is a common custom at most bars and restaurants, 2) you can feel comfortable stopping by for just a drink or several, 3) customers will come and go which makes for fun conversations with many different people in a short amount of time.
The bar is a pay-as-you-go cash system per drink, so no need to worry about any surprise charges. The speciality here is sake, with an almost daily rotating selection of local and regional options. The staff may be able to assist in recommending something (staff speak limited English, but are very friendly!), however, your best option is to let your taste buds do the talking. Drinks are reasonable at around 400 yen. I highly recommend the 3 Sake Set Sampler for less than 900 yen. Choose any three sake on the menu and compare the flavors. Strong, sweet, subtle, sake can have a tremendous variety similar to wine. If you find one you really like, why don't you take a picture or ask the staff to write the name of it down so you can pick up a bottle at a local sake shop to bring back as a souvenir? If you'd like a beer, order a large glass for just 500 yen. The Ebisu beer brand has a special connection to this business as "back in the day" the business operated as the Ebisu Beer Hall a few blocks away from the current location. A few pictures and history notes (in Japanese) hang on the wall introducing just a taste of its over 150 year history! One of the only major drawbacks to this place is it closes early, around 21:30. Conversely, it opens from 10:00 everyday for those that want a little more than a morning cup of coffee!
With half the store dedicated to tabacco products, unsurprisingly smoking is allowed here. For smokers, this is great as more and more bars and restaurants are banning or reducing the smoking areas in their establishments. People bothered by smoke can easily step outside or even drink in front of the shop with permission to get some fresh air. An interesting side note is that this shop sells rare Cuban cigars which are hard to find in Japan.
The closest subway is Hirose-dori Station, about a 5 minute walk away. Otherwise, let your feet take you 20 minutes through the extensive shopping arcades from Sendai Station, and you'll eventually hit the Disney Store if following the crowds.
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Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for JapanTravel.com since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai. Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.