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Bars in KYOTO!
Classy, stylish and cool - What can I get you?
Photos by Shaheed Rupani
Whether it be a high class bar in a 5-star hotel or local dive where you can pop in for a quick one on the way home, Kyoto has some fascinating haunts that are sure to help in quenching your thirst.
When you've finished a long day of trekking through the streets of Kyoto, visiting temples or shrines, venturing through various markets and buying all sorts of wonderful souvenirs to take back home, one of everyone's favorite ways to relax is to visit one of nice bars and imbibing in one of their specialties.
Sent James Club
A lovely, dark mellow bar with flickering candle light and jazz at just the right volume. The name is intentional, the menu is in English and they are quite foreigner friendly. The crowd is a little older and a lot more sophisticated than most places. The interior has real brick walls with nice antique accents here and there.
The owner, Mr. Tanaka, is a very friendly chap. He talks to his customers at the counter as he serves them their orders. He took over this bar from his father 30 years ago. At that time, it used to be a show pub. He has since renovated and redesigned every inch of the bar. You'll immediately notice his extreme attention to detail. One of the most interesting, is the entrance. It is actually the same kind of door you'd find in an old-fashioned elevator.
They also have an outdoor terrace overlooking the Kamo River. There is a seating charge of 600 yen/inside and 1,000 yen/terrace. They offer a nice selection of food to accompany your libations. Perfect for warm summer evenings and they have blankets ready, if it does get a bit chilly.
For those of you who want a real Japanese experience, you must visit their Pontocho location (on the west side of Pontocho, about 50 meters south from the Pontocho Kaburenjo Theatre). Very classy, Mr. Tanaka.
Sent James Club: Open: 19:00-2:00 (from 17:00 on Sun.); Tel: 075-351-7571; On the west side of Pontocho, south of Shijo; www.sentjamesclub.com
Sake Bar Yoramu
Japanese is a difficult language but there are a few words that everyone knows: Geisha, Sushi, Ninja, and SAKE. Yoramu, also the owner's name, specializes in sake. The owner has been living in Japan for almost 3 decades and he knows his sake. When you talk to him, you immediately understand his love for sake through his words and the passion within them. When asked how he learnt so much about sake, he calmly said, ''By drinking it.'' All he knows is from his experiences and when you see him take a drink you can see that they were meant to be together.
There is no English sake menu because he is the menu. He’ll guide you through the world of sake but you're not going to want to leave. Not only sake - there is something else - his food menu, that is to die for. You absolutely must try the ''Tofuyo,'' an Okinawan delicacy. It tastes like ripe cheese but is actually aged tofu in Awamori (an Okinawan shochu - somewhat like whiskey).
Other menu items on offer are his grilled rice cakes (served with a dash of butter) and halumi, which is a grilled cheese. All of the above complement sake beautifully and in some circumstances, enhance the flavor.
If you're a sake lover, you must go to Yoramu to try what he has to offer as his selection is seasonal and always evolving. If you've never had sake, then this is a great chance. He offers a sampler set filled with explanation and even teaches you the best way to drink them. A little advice let him know what you like and let him choose the right one for you.
Sake Bar Yoramu: Open: 18:00-24:00; Closed: Sun., Mon, Tues.; Tel: 075-213-1512; On the south side of Nijo, east of Higashinotoin; www.sakebar-yoramu.com
Man in the Moon
Simple, yet functional with friendly service and an excellent menu - food too. This bar, one of three locations, is in the heart of Gion. Gion draws all kinds of famous people and, it has to be said that Gion is the place where Japanese with big pocketbooks frequent, but is a bit daunting, because of all of the hustle and bustle.
Man in the Moon is a welcome change and quite the opposite. The coolest thing is that you can relax here, enjoy a Guinness while watching the who's who in Kyoto and geisha whisk by from the big glass windows.
Man in the Moon Gion: Open: 17:00-4:30 (until 24:00 on Sun. & nat’l holiday); Tel: 050-5797-3397; On the west side of Hanamikoji, two blocks north from Shijo; www.maninthemoon.jp/
When people think tequila, they think cactus. It is true, but it's not just any cactus. Tequila comes from the Blue Agave Cactus. Like the rarity of the plant, Agave, the bar, is a rare find in Kyoto. They have the 400 varieties of tequila and are located in a designer building in the heart of Kyoto. If you don't know much about tequila, they also have sampling sets and many other cocktails.
Their amuse bouche are truly delish and made with a little extra TLC. As you enter, the vibe is just cool with an amazingly high ceiling and ambient lighting. This place is truly a tequila lover's dream-come-true!
Agave: Open: 18:00-2:00; Closed: Wed.; Tel: 075-254-7605; 3F of TIMES Bldg., on the southwest corner of Sanjo/Kiyamachi; www.agave.jp/
A family run business that only serves the best of the best - Great selection of wine and a plethora of yummy treats. The owner, Mr. Hirooka, personally travels to Spain to choose the Iberico ham that he serves in his bar. This is one of only two places in Kyoto that you can get Joselito, the Rolls Royce of Iberico hams.
He's a fantastic host, particular about his delicacies and is a also sommelier so, you'll definitely get a great wine if you ask him for advice. The bar is cozy, yet lively and has a great clientele. If you are lucky, you might be able to sit next to a real maiko (apprentice geisha)! Poquito has become super popular recently so that it is recommended to give them a call and make a reservation.
Poquito: Open: 18:00-1:00 (L.O. 24:00); Closed: Wed.; Tel: 075-212-8450; One street south from Oike, east of Kawaramachi (across from Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa); www.facebook.com/pages/Poquito/177826098943576
Mr. Takayama, the owner is a bit eccentric and very selective. Every drink is a liquid masterpiece and his talent and passion for serving the best can be tasted in every drop. His mild manner and soft spoken shyness are part of his charm as he sophisticatedly tends to all of his customers.
Calvador's specialty is their apple brandy (Calvados) which Mr. Takayama travels the world to personally acquire for your tasting pleasure. You will also be quite taken with his collection of Baccarat glasses (some up to 100 years old) that he actually serves his drinks in. Look for the flower in the window on the 2nd floor to know if he's open or not.
Calvador: Open: 19:00-1:00; Closed: Thurs.; Tel: 075-211-4737; 2F Wakabayashi Bldg., on the west side of Teramachi, south of Nijo; 500 yen service charge will be added to your bill; calvador.sakura.ne.jp/
If you are or were anyone in Kyoto, you've been to this machiya (Kyoto-style townhouse) / bar / restaurant and probably still frequent it. There is an English menu as a few famous people have known to partake in their lovely dishes. Yata is in a beautiful, yet demure machiya. Their restaurant menu is quite the opposite - one could describe it as sassy or attention seeking but definitely worth seeking.
The bar is on the second floor and exudes stylish ambiance. It just feels good to be there. The exuberant food menu for the restaurant on the 1st floor is also available at the bar. For a true Japanese experience with thoughtful food and a great atmosphere, check out this truly Kyoto favorite.
Yata: Open: 17:00-23:00 (L.O. 22:00), until 22:00 (L.O. 21:00) on Sun., bar until 2:00 (bar closed on Sun.); Tel: 075-525-5511; On the north side of Shinbashi, east of Yamato-oji; www.kaland.co.jp/yata_honten/index2.html
Sora Yuka Shoki
A spectacular view with unbeatable service is all you can say about this bar. This bar is on the rooftop of The Screen Hotel, which has received 3 stars in the Michelin Guide. As you put an ice cold glass to your lips and start sipping down a mojito or any other drink, you'll feel a week’s worth of stress just melt out of your body.
The olives and smoked ham from the menu are recommended, as is any of their treats. Every taste bud in your mouth will come alive and make you feel like you are in another world. This is a must go place if you like sunsets or if you're in Kyoto during the Daimonji Fire Ritual on August 16.
Sora Yuka Shoki: Open: 17:00-22:00; Tel: 075-252-1215; On the west side of Teramachi, south of Marutamachi; www.screen-hotel.jp/