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 the best spots that you can enjoy the Kyoto’s nightlife, such as bars, stand pubs and clubs.
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.
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.
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.
- cinematik SALOON
- 京都府京都市中京区河原町通三条上ル下丸屋町410 7F
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.
Craft Beer Kyoto: six of the best spots
Although there’s no danger that microbrews, milk stouts and pungent IPAs will ever supplant the national love of cold, crisp lager…
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.
Pontocho is one of the most atmospheric dining areas in Kyoto and is home to Pop Kyoto, which is easily recognizable thanks to its polka dot door. This cafe-cum-bar is open until 3 am and is renowned for its hip selection of music, high-quality cocktails and espressos that you can actually eat as the cup is made from cookies!
If you visit during the day, you can grab a coffee to drink in or take away.
But after dark, Pop Kyoto is a go-to destination before heading upstairs to the top floor dance club Surf Disco or the long established Club World whose entrance is right alongside.
Styled after a Spanish tapas bar, this hidden venue is situated in the northern corner of Gojo Muromachi. The interior is decorated with tiled walls and mosaic counters where customers stand up to drink and dine. If you prefer to sit down to soak up the warm and inviting atmosphere, sofa seats are available for an extra 300 yen.
The menu features a large number of small tapas dishes, with the idea being that you order a few and enjoy sampling the various creations. Think freshly baked quiche, ratatouille and Spanish omelette, with European wines, Japanese sake, shochu and beers to accompany your meal.
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.
Easily identified by its bird-shaped neon sign, Solires (sot-l'y-laisse) is a Kawaramachi-based restaurant named after a part of the chicken that’s often not eaten, translating from French as "the fool leaves it". This yakitori-style restaurant features a cool, industrial design, with aluminum piping and exposed light bulbs where you’re invited to cook your own chicken.
You can order their platter of 15 different parts of the chicken to discover the subtleties in taste or select a particular part that you prefer. The smoky atmosphere of Sot-l’y-laisse is all part of the experience as you cook your meat exactly how you like it.
- 京都府京都市下京区清水町284 フジヨシビル 1F
Suiba Shijo Kawaramachi すいば 四条河原町
The intersection of Shijo Kawaramachi is bustling throughout the day and night. But if you follow a small alleyway behind, you’ll find this popular and pioneering standing restaurant (no seats are available). The walls are lined with menus detailing the food and drinks on offer, all of which are surprisingly cheap.
You can order sake-seasoned potato salad or freshly-cooked fish, washed down with local draft beers. Despite the affordable prices, the food is authentic and delicious, making this a great destination to head for your first standing bar experience in Kyoto.
- すいば 四条河原町店
Sujin Shin Machii 崇仁新町
Situated just a five-minute walk from Kyoto Station, this pop-up night market is a great place to sample a range of different foods…but only until the summer of 2020! It’s going to be taken over by the Kyoto City University of Arts, with students already playing a central role in the design of the food stalls and the organization of events at Sujin shin-machi.
There are 16 different foods stands selling everything from Thai cuisine to American hamburgers and, of course, Japanese cuisine. If you’re just after a drink, you can also find craft beers, gins and locally-made sake.
Cyberpunk yatai: Neo Sujin Container Community Space
If William Gibson curated yatai stalls, this is what it might look like: shipping containers, naked bulbs strung overhead, coils of wire…
One of the most famous clubs in Kyoto for house, techno and disco music, World Kyoto is situated in Shijo Kawaramachi. It was opened with the philosophy of creating a club that represented the Kyoto area.
World Kyoto hosts both Japanese and international DJs, with weekly events and seasonal celebrations that attract both local clubbers and foreign tourists. The main basement floor of the club is styled after a “hidden church” in Middle Ages Europe, with two additional floors opening during big events to create a capacity for around 1,000 people.
Situated on Kiyamachi, Butterfly is a newly-opened night club that features the largest number of LED lights in Western Japan. They regularly host DJs from Kansai and beyond, with high-quality lighting and a state-of-the-art sound system to keep you dancing all night long.
The bar at Butterfly is designed so you can easily grab drinks, no matter where you are in the club or you can splurge with a VIP seat if you want the ultimate clubbing experience.
Butterfly is also one of the most foreigner-friendly clubs in Kyoto.
Kitsune Kyoto きつね京都
Specializing in electronic dance music, Kitsune is a large club spread across two floors - one for smokers and the other for non-smokers. The 3rd floor is themed around “Land” and has regularly changing, special genre events while the 4th floor has a “Sea” aesthetic and is ideal for those who don’t want to go home smelling like smoke.
Big-name DJs from Japan and abroad regular perform here, accompanied by cutting-edge sound, lighting and video effects. Clubbers can move between the two floors depending on their musical tastes, with each playing a different style to create a sense of yin and yang.
This long-established club in Marutamachi opened in 1990 and is still one of the most popular places to head after dark in Kyoto. It’s situated just above the Marutamachi metro station along the Kamo River, offering a central location to go out, no matter where you’re staying in Kyoto.
Club Metro has an exciting schedule of live music, renowned DJs and events throughout the year, with a focus on music media and the ideas being communicated through art. Their charity and community events are a great place to meet like-minded people while giving back at the same time.