A hip Hokkaido bar hangout hides behind a refrigerator door.

Nestled into a Niseko snowbank, there is a small red refrigerator door. Duck your head to enter, you’ll find a candlelit cocktail lair where lo-fi jazz is wafting through the speakers. Bartenders are serving belly warming craft cocktails to Tokyo’s coolest — those who’ve come to find their post-ski zen after a day riding Japan’s Niseko Annupuri.

The vintage Coca-Cola vending machine door has become one of the most iconic symbols in Niseko — and the reason Bar Gyu+ is also known as the `Fridge Door Bar.

Hisashi Watanabe, a former ski instructor and patroller, started the bar in his living room nearly 20 years ago. He is the head bartender, running the business with his wife, Ioanna Morelli, who came to the area in 2005 to snowboard, met Watanabe, and stayed. Fast track to 2017: Bar Gyu+ is now a quirky, wood-paneled hideaway and one of the hottest spots on Hokkaido.


“We try to make the atmosphere as analog as possible so people are encouraged to talk about their ski day, chat with the staff, or just sit and enjoy the view,” says Morelli.

Watanabe’s most popular tipples include the Hot Apple Pie (vanilla-infused vodka, warmed Yoichi apple juice, cinnamon syrup, and baked apple and orange bitters), a hot buttered rum with homemade Hokkaido butter, yuzu mojitos, and classic whiskey cocktails made with Japanese whiskey.

Morelli oversees the spirits program and selects all of the bar’s sakes and whiskies. “Years ago it was hard to interest people in drinking a Japanese whiskey,” she says. “But now it’s hard to get them to drink anything else!”

Of Watanabe’s Japanese Whiskey Sour, the bartender explains that when people come off the ski hill and step inside Bar Gyu+, they’re usually looking for something refreshing and not too strong. “In this drink we use Japanese honey,” he says. “But it’s not too sweet — more sour.” He also recommends using large ice cubes to keep the drink really cold right to the last sip.



  • 2 ounces Suntory
  • White Blended Whiskey
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1⁄2 ounce honey syrup (1:1 honey/water ratio)
  • Large ice cube