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Cocktails in Kyoto
By Rachel Tranter Davies
Kyoto is a wonderful place to enjoy fine food and delicious drinks. There's something for everyone, from beer bars to sake dens to exquisite cocktail creators, you can always find something to hit the spot. Here are two bars that I love to visit, both have incredible cocktail menus and serve a great selection of Japanese spirits.
Created by the mind of a magician, L'Escamoteur certainly has something that strikes you as magical. Conjuring up images of apothecaries of old, this small (but perfectly formed) bar is a treat for the imagination and for the palate. Tucked away in the heart of Kyoto, you know you've arrived at this intimate little cocktail shop when you see a sign sporting a fine fellow on a penny farthing. Open the door and climb the tiny staircase to enter a world of wonderment and intrigue; bicycle wheels attached to pulleys in complex systems that whiz and whir whenever the door opens. Shelves are filled with trinkets acquired through years of collecting, from old globes to candles to books filling antique birdcages hang from walls and ceilings. There's always something to look at.
Cocktail magician and L'esca Mastermind, Christophe Rossi and his beautiful bar, L'Escamoteur -A cocktail lover's dream
Speaking to owner and head bartender, Christophe Rossi, he exudes passion and a genuine love for what he's doing. Christophe has a background as a magician and he can sure shake up a good cocktail. A winning combination. When chatting to Christophe about the kind of bar he wanted to create, he described it as a place he dreamed of, somewhere that he would love to visit himself. Christophe imagined a bar at the turn of the century, owned by a crazy scientist, mixing up elixirs to soothe the soul and tantalise the tastebuds. Christophe dreamed of using L'Esca as a place to lift the spirits of his customers by providing good drinks, warm words and a sense of awe that is so often lost in our modern lives. He has succeeded.
My favorite thing about L'Esca (other than the delicious drinks) is the atmosphere. There's a real sense of familiarity as you walk in. Make yourself comfortable at the bar or around the tiny corner table (with rope swings for seats!) and get ordering. My personal favorite is the Shiso sour (light, citrusy and nicely herbal), but the staff are friendly and more than happy to help you choose something to suit your tastes.
During your visit, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the password to order the secret cocktail and try to seat yourself near Christophe who likes to dazzle with some tricks when he's not too busy making drinks. Just one word of warning, the powder room is tucked away behind a secret door so be prepared to ask for directions!
Open: 20:00-2:00 a.m.; Closed: Mon.; Tel: 075-708-8511; On the east side of Kiyamachi, south of Shijo (2F of the building); www.facebook.com/LEscamoteur-1392735951033939/
A very different bar to L'Escamoteur, Rocking Chair is much less European and much more Japanese in its atmosphere and cocktail menu. Opening in February 2009, the focus of this beautiful bar is definitely on creating excellent cocktails in a sophisticated but relaxed setting. Kenji Tsubokura is the owner and head bartender at Rocking Chair and is also the very deserving recipient of Japan's Best Bartender award. Tsubokura-san has been a bartender for 24 years and has mentioned to me on a visit to Rocking Chair that ''bartending is my life'', and it certainly goes to show. As the owner of one of the most brilliant bars in Kyoto (never mind the rest of Japan), this is a must visit place to really experience some second-tonone Japanese hospitality in a traditional machiya setting. It's particularly lovely in winter as it has a cozy fireplace to cuddle up next to, but make sure you book a table as it's always busy.
Owner and bartender extraordinaire, Tsubokura-san & Rocking Chair's vast spirits selection
Here you won't find a cocktail menu. Instead, one of the meticulously trained bartenders will ask you what you enjoy; gin, whisky? Citrus, herbal, bitter? They'll then proceed to craft something unique that suits your personal taste, this style of service is known as ''Omakase.'' Don't forget to order a seasonal fruit cocktail whilst you're there. These are famous at RC and change throughout the months depending on what fresh Japanese ingredients are available.
Open: 17:00-2:00 a.m.; Closed: Tues.; Tel: 075-496-8679; On the east side of Gokomachi, south of Bukkoji; bar-rockingchair.jp
Rachel is a food, drink and travel writer. Originally from England, she recently relocated to Japan and is now finding her feet in Kyoto. You can find her blogging tweeting and instagramming her experiences at Girljin in Japan.