Sapporo TV Tower was the closest landmark I remember seeing on Google Maps before my phone died. Confident in that much, I asked Rieko if she trusted me, took her hand and together marched toward the tower’s purple lights.
From there it was a memory game. We gambled, crossed a four-lane street, turned a corner, another, and looked for a sign.
There it was: Beer Bar North Island. BEER in bold letters is not something I miss. The bar itself is less distinct. It’s tucked away on the upper floors of an old three-story building down one of Sapporo’s has-been streets.
We went in without a reservation and were directed to a cozy window spot on the third floor. Rieko got up to take pictures. I leaned back to take it in. Certainly an older crowd tonight and, my, what a fine mottling of facial hair. I briefly considered a correlation between beer quality and the amount of facial hair in a given establishment but shook the thought away as ludicrous. How would one account for confounding variables?
I looked up, down, side to side: exposed pipes, wooden floors, vintage furniture of green velvet and polished walnut. 70’s era funk flowed from the speakers, not too loud, just enough to fall back on and enjoy during lulls in conversations. “It’s a family affa-ir. It’s a family affa-ir.” Yes. Yes, it is.
There we were. We made it. Our journey was over. I had come for the North Island India Pale Ale. It had beckoned me from Niigata ever since I tried a bottle at Rohan. I wanted it again. I needed to know where it had originated. That much was decided, but we scanned the menu for food and a drink for Rieko. We ordered two dishes and a Weizen.
The drinks came fast. I took my first sip. It was served at perfect temperature, not ice cold, giving way to a body I couldn’t appreciate from a refrigerated bottle. Piney, a touch of citrus, and a strong malt backbone; I could taste each flavor separately and together. It was confirmed: this is my favorite Japanese beer. After two, I ordered the Coriander Black. Rieko progressed to the Brown Ale. Soon she’ll be drinking IPAs too.
As we sat chatting, Rieko said something interesting. She described her beers as nomiyasui, which means easy to drink. I had heard it from others a dozen times in reference to drink. An affirmative nod and “Un, nomiyasui,” indicating “good.” Certainly I know what people mean when they say nomiyasui. The Weizen could be deemed “easier” to drink than the IPA and Heineken goes down like water. But ultimately it’s a flawed descriptor as it insinuates the opposite is also true — less easy to drink equals not as good. The North Island IPA is delicious but isn’t to be chugged. Each sip warrants full attention. Each sip elicits a thought. That, I think, is the pleasure of drinking.
The anchovy and green olive pizza arrived as we finished the first round. The chicken confit came with the second. We enjoyed both dishes thoroughly and commented on the exquisite marriage of bittersweet beers and salty menu items. After sitting a moment longer, enjoying the space and feeling satisfied, we paid our bill and headed for the top of TV Tower to find our way back.