Food & Drink

Kyoto after dark: Sip like the locals at these five bars

by Matt Kaufman

Contributing Writer

With over 53 million tourists annually, Kyoto has been described as “overcrowded” and “packed.” Given the number of visitors, it can be a challenge to find a place where you can slip away for a relaxing drink and a pleasant chat. But The Japan Times has you covered with five distinctive bars where you can cut loose in the “Eternal City.”

Hachimonjiya: Since 1985, this battered bar — located on Kiyamachi-dori, a short walk from the atmospheric Pontocho alley of bars and restaurants — has been a place where Japanese and international writers, artists, musicians, scholars and students can meet to perform, exhibit their work or exchange ideas over a drink. Owner Kai Fusayoshi is a legendary photographer who has been documenting life in Kyoto for five decades. He has published over 40 books of his work and is the recipient of prestigious awards from the governments of both Japan and France. Most of Fusayoshi’s photobooks are stacked on a table near the bar to peruse as you sip on beer, sake, sangria or other cocktails. bit.ly/hachimonjiya

Sakaba Ikuramokuzai: Located a few blocks from the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sakaba Ikuramokuzai offers one of the most unique and intimate dining experiences in the city. This friendly stand-up bar and restaurant, which is located on the grounds of a functioning lumberyard, serves exquisite food. You can either stand inside or sit at one of the exterior tables to watch owner Yasuhiro Ikura prepare his mouthwatering katsuo tataki (seared skipjack tuna) on a charcoal grill. Over 30 dishes are offered on the daily menu including age (grilled tofu) and torikara gyōza (fried chicken dumplings). bit.ly/ikuramokuzai

Kitsushu Ixey: Also known as Bar Ixey, this stylish bar is located in the heart of the geisha district of Gion. Owner Hiroaki Oda is one of the most respected mixologists in Kyoto — many of his customers are referrals from other bar owners. There is no menu: Oda makes his original cocktails from his collection of over 650 bottles of liqueur and 320 kinds of herbs and botanicals, some of which are sourced from his garden on Mount Hiei, and others he procures on frequent shopping trips to Europe. Oda, who was a guest bartender at Gallopin in Paris in 2017, has a signature drink called Existence made with Tanqueray No. 10, absinthe, suzu (bamboo grass), elderflower and fresh lime juice. He also makes a fantastic pear and sudachi citrus gin and tonic, which he cools with a big bottle of liquid nitrogen. bit.ly/barixey

Jazz in Rokudenashi: The word rokudenashi is often translated as “good-for-nothing,” “scoundrel” or “bum,” but none of these terms apply to Naohisa “Yokochan” Yokota, the laid-back owner of this beloved hole-in-the-wall jazz bar near Gion-Shijo Station. Yokota lives and breathes jazz — he claims he has never owned a rock record. The inside of this 40-year-old bar brings to mind a 1970s dive bar in New York, its walls plastered with faded fliers for old gigs and torn posters of jazz legends. The bar has an expansive drink menu, with everything from rum to brandy, Four Roses bourbon and more. The bar’s acoustics are incredible — when Yokota puts on an album by the likes of Eric Dolphy or Chet Baker, there is no better place to be in Kyoto after midnight. www.rokude.com

Bar Tantei: This detective-themed bar near Mototanaka Station is the brainchild of film director Kaizo Hayashi, who directed a series of 1990s neonoir films about private detective Mike Hama (starring Masatoshi Nagase of “Mystery Train” fame). By day, Bar Tantei is a cafe that serves light meals and desserts — it’s known for delicious pudding. But when the sun goes down, dress up as your favorite film noir gumshoe or femme fatale and sip highballs or metropolitans at the bar. Lucky patrons might even be shown the secret room located behind a bookcase — as long as you promise never to reveal what is inside. https://kyoto.bartantei.com

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