Six Spots to Drink the Night Away in KyotoArea Guide
For most, Kyoto nightlife doesn’t call to mind any immediate associations in the way Roppongi or Shibuya or Namba or Nakasu or Susukino nightlife might, but Kyoto has plenty of spots to drink the night away, whether your ideal scene is a smokey jazz bar, Burgundy in antique Baccarat crystal, or craft beer and DJ sets.
Here are six worthy spots to get you started on your journey into Kyoto’s nightlife.
Some of the best spots in Kyoto are attached to guest houses and hostels, which is convenient if you’re staying in-house, and also makes for a really chill scene where it’s easy to spark up conversation with other folks visiting the city. Bars like the one at Talbot are not as much about the cocktail list or Michelin-approved small plates, but the atmosphere. One of the features of the guest house is a dark room, so this might be the best spot in town to strike up a conversation about the dreamy effects of expired Velvia 50, the scourge of lens fungus, or debate the best micro four thirds system. The dark room is available for rental by the hour, so stop by early if you’ve got some C-41 to develop, and then head for a beer.
Jazz Spot Yamatoya
There must be at this point some cult or heretical sect that believes in a vision of heaven that’s essentially Yamatoya: a deep collection of jazz records played on a vintage sound system, good whiskey and pour over coffee, full ashtrays and smoke in the air. This Kyoto institution has been open since the 1970s with brief hiatuses. Fairly relaxed during the day, the atmosphere heats up at night, with records spinning on the Garrard turntable and aficionados breaking down Zoot Sims recordings over Nikka on the rocks. Check the listings and stop by to catch the city’s best players live in an intimate setting.
This bar, opened by a foreign resident in the city, borrows its name from an archaic French term for sleight-of-hand and escape artists, and it does in fact look like the haunt of sideshow conjurers, traveling mountebanks and fin de siècle romantics. The setting—if not the patrons— look straight from a Toulouse-Lautrec painting. Stop by for a great atmosphere and classic cocktails prepared by bartenders that look like supporting characters from a China Mieville novel.
Ueto Salon and Bar
At Ueto, the emphasis is as much on the vessel as what goes into it. The proprietor has collected glassware and crystal from around the world, with some pieces, from manufacturers like Baccarat and Daum, dating back to the turn of the last century. The unique glasses are employed to highlight the season, the beverage or the mood. There’s a brief menu of seasonal cocktails, as well as a rotating cast of bottles from Burgundy and Champagne.
Cinematic Saloon is operating with speakeasy-caliber privacy, tucked into a space in a nondescript building off Sanjo Dori. A vintage PA system pipes in spacey IDM or bebop records, the projector sends a classic film onto the wall, and the sound of shakers and conversations comes from the long bar. This is the type of bar everyone dreams of having in their neighborhood.
One of the better spots in the Pontocho area, Forum has craft beer from Kyoto Brewing Company on tap, a frequently refreshed list of mostly natural wines, as well as an impressive coffee program and pastry menu. But, more importantly, it serves as a gathering place for an eclectic group of artists, designers and musicians. The space has hosted events ranging from talks on architecture to photo exhibitions to fashion shows to DJ sets. This is the perfect place to stop in while crawling Pontocho or to settle in for the night.