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Beer gardens perfect way to beat the heat

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2012-08-03

Temperatures are hot, thirst is high, and everyone’s looking for a cool beverage, leading to the search for the perfect place to chill out and enjoy Okinawa’s ambience.

Beer gardens were first introduced into mainland Japan’s big cities, where entrepreneurs realized that folks sweating in offices and on the streets during the summer heat were craving a place to cool down and relax. In central Japan, that often meant the roofs of buildings, such as on top of department stores that had tables, chairs and a fountain serving cold beer. The breweries, of course, were eager to be willing participants. Beer gardens typically came under the breweries’ thumbs, serving only one kind of beer, but plenty of it.

Okinawa’s different, of course, and as a tourism destination is doing things a different way. Beer gardens such as found on the mainland aren’t common here, but local variations fall in resort, hotel or club establishments that provide barbeque or other foods, drinks and the like at poolside. Sometimes there is even live music.

The island’s most typical beer garden is the Palette Kumoji Sky Beer Garden in Naha, seating 250 guests high atop the Palette Kumoji building. Chieko Kina, a Palette Kumoji spokeswoman, says the Sky Beer Garden was first open last year when the building celebrated its 20th anniversary, and as the summer season this year rolled around, people insisted the garden should open again. It did.

Open daily throughout August from 5 p.m. ~ 10 p.m., the Sky Beer Garden serves cold Orion Draft at ¥400 per mug. A “nomi hodai” deal costs ¥2,000 where there’s an all-you-can-drink special for a given period of time. All members of a group sitting together must buy the “nomi hodai” ticket; no exceptions allowed. Another option is to purchase tickets in sets of 10, each with a ¥100 face value, that can be used for food or beverages. Yen in cash is the only currency accepted.

Snack foods come from restaurants in the same building, but beers come fast. Limited snacks are prepared on premises, with a food menu containing 25 different items, including Blue Seal ice cream. The last food order is at 9 p.m., while drinks can be ordered until 9:30 p.m. A female dance group entertains twice a night on weekends while other entertainment is on the tap on weekdays. Kina says most customers weekdays are office workers from nearby prefectural and city government offices, banks and insurance companies, while families are prominent on the weekends.

Pay parking lots are available in the area, including one beneath Palette Kumoji. Some close early, though, posing a problem for retrieving a car.

Nikko Alivila pool-side live “Sound Cocktail 2012” is being served up on odd-number days in August. Music comes from local musicians providing all genres from Latin to jazz to Okinawa pop. Two 40-minute stages are performed daily, with the first at 7 p.m. and the 2nd at 8:15 p.m.

Admission to poolside is free, and refreshments are served on a pay-as-you-go basis. Included are a variety of Alivilia’s original cocktails. Beer, soft drinks and non-alcoholic cocktails are also available. Performances are held outdoors, weather permitted, and are moved inside the hotel to the Azul room in cases of unpleasant weather. Weather can also determine which performers appear.

It doesn’t have a pool, and isn’t located on a rooftop, but the Seamen’s Club Naha points out it competes with the others on the merits of its beers and cocktails. The Seamen’s Club Naha boasts 100 different beers from 32 countries, including Orion and Helios from Okinawa. The Seamen’s Club mixologists turn out cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks, too. An extensive bar menu is available, including four types pizza, and the Seamen’s Club full menu is also available evenings until 8:30 p.m.

More than a dozen American beers are available, including five from the Rogue breweries and two from Lost Coast in California. European beers come from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Holland and Belgium, while Maccabee from Israel and Mythos from Greece add mystique. Asian beers come from Australia and New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia, Bali, Thailand, Korea, China and Taiwan. The rest come from the Canada, the Caribbean, central and South America.

The Laguna Garden Hotel in Ginowan is running its annual summertime Poolside Barbeque and Beer Garden daily from 6 p.m. through September. The popular event features a BBQ set, all-you-can-eat buffet and salad bar for ¥3,500 for adults and ¥1,500 for kids. Add another ¥1,500 and the Orion beer tap is open for two hours. Awamori and Chu-hai are included in the deal, while unlimited soft drinks for children are ¥500.

The barbeque set consists of Grape Beef, a sirloin steak that comes from cattle fed on lees that are the residue of fermentation in wine making. Tender veal rib roast, Okinawan pork spare ribs and sausages are also on the menu, and salads are included. Patrons who purchase their BBQ tickets in advance are treated with a ¥500 discount, paying only ¥4,500 for the combined all-you-can-eat and drink plan. Advance tickets cannot be used on the day of purchase, but can be used in other Laguna Gardens restaurants in case inclement weather makes outdoor dining less attractive. Advance tickets are sold through Aug 30, and they expire on Sep. 30.

The poolside garden features live music performances twice each evening, at 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., with performers and music genre changing every night from Hawaiian to Okinawan and Jazz. There’s no live music on Wednesdays, but Laguna Garden features a bingo game instead. Schedules do change without advance notice. Reservations are available at (098) 897-2121.

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