Most of the time, when people think “nightlife,” they think of the big city. But despite the abundance of kimonos and its adherence to traditional architecture, Kyoto nightlife is as lively as it gets. I’m taking a look at some of the more off-beat and unusual night scenes instead of the boring old popular stuff. Cuz that’s how I roll.
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Where To Stay in Kyoto
One thing that really caught my attention is that it offers a pretty decent breakfast early on in the day. This is perfect for me because I’m an early riser, and Kyoto doesn’t have a lot of early breakfast options.
PHOTO CREDITS: PRINCE SMART INN KYOTO SANJO VIA HOTELS.COM
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Where to Experience the Best of Kyoto Nightlife
1. Bee’s Knees for a Trip Back to the ’20s
Who doesn’t love a good speakeasy? The mystery, the forbidden feeling, the booze. Mostly the booze. Bee’s Knees is cleverly disguised by having its yellow front door display “The Book Store” on its face. Once you walk in, though, it’s anything but. The cocktails change seasonally, but they have a lot of fun with their specialties – Bee’s Knees, with gin, fresh lemon juice, and honey; Not God Father, an apple-cinnamon whisky that comes complete with a tiny mafia-esque hat; and the very showy Smoked Mojito, which uses smoke from cherry blossom wood to give it a uniquely Japanese sweetness.
- Closed Sunday
- Open Mon-Thur 6 pm until 1 am; Fri-Sat 6 pm until 2am
- Address: 364 Kamiyacho, Agaru, Kiyamachi, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto
2. Making Kyoto Nightlife Magic at L’Escamoteur Bar
L’Escamoteur has a bit of a twist. Rather than just serving you cocktails like normal, they’ve got a trained magician on staff. And I mean the sleight-of-hand-type illusionist, not Harry Potter. The theme of the bar isn’t really about magic, though – it’s got more of an old apothecary aesthetic. It’s a great way to get a small escape, not the least because it’s on the list for the World’s 50 Best Bars.
- Open 8 pm until 2 am
- Address: 138-9 Saisekidori, Shijosagaru, Saitocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto
3. Go Underground at Club Metro
Much as I love partaking of local libations, it’d be boring to only include bars. Club Metro sets you up for a wild ride. This night club is a magnet for local artists and also holds the distinction for being one of the oldest night clubs in Japan. It has a cool, alternative vibe going for it that can’t be beat, plus a regularly updating schedule for live music concerts, drag shows, and other performances.
Tickets are usually around 2,000 yen (US$15), but can go up to 5,000 yen (US$36). You can purchase tickets ahead of time here. (Site’s in Japanese, so be warned!)
- Pretty sure it’s only open for performances, which mostly start 5 pm or 8pm and last until midnight or later.
- Address: B1F of Ebisu Building, 82 Shimotsutsumicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto
4. Chambers for a Poppin’ Kyoto Nightlife Experience
Like Club Metro, Chambers hosts a ton of live performances. But Chambers has a unique advantage in that it has a reputation for being very foreigner-friendly. As in, foreigners usually get a discount off tickets. The shows have a very pop and techno feel, with a lot of good vibes for anyone looking for a fun way to blow off some steam.
- Open for events (see schedule here), usually from 10 pm until 5 am.
- Address: 2nd floor of Rokkaku Terrace Building, 236 Yamazakicho, Sanjogeru, Kawaramachi, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto
5. Kyoto Nightlife Neon Lights at UNDERBAR-kyoto
Underbar-kyoto has all-around good vibes: staff is friendly, drinks are good, and the neon light decor adds a nice pop of color to the place. They also have a live DJ playing EDM, pop, and more, who will even take song requests. Overall, it’s a great place to go if you want to have a fun atmosphere while you relax.
- Open 9 pm until 4 am
- Address: B1F of Sano Building, North Kurumaya-cho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto
6. Sample Some Whisky at Liquor Museum Gion
This bar is probably the most down-to-earth on the list. It’s the place to go if you just want some good ol’ liquor paired with simple but tasty Japanese snacks. The hosts have a great sense of humor and are welcoming to people of all stripes. Enjoy some amazing company while you sample their selection of Japanese whiskies in classic aged bottles.
- Open 3 pm until midnight
- Address: 1st floor of Beniya Building, 158-2 Tokiwacho, Higashiyama, Kyoto
7. Bar Stardust Club Got Some Coasters on the Wall
If you’re into jazz, then boy, do I have a bar for you! This cozy little club has live singers of blues, jazz, and more, with a chill, fairly peaceful vibe you wouldn’t typically expect of a nightclub. That’s part of its charm, though – that, and the black-and-white array of chic coasters lining the beer shelves. I’d suggest checking their schedule ahead of time to see what performances are lined up. For general entry, they don’t have a cover charge, just ask that you tip the musician. And on nights they do have a cover charge, it’s for when the live performance starts at 8 pm.
- Open 4 pm until they’re ready close (code for: they don’t post closing times on their website)
- Address: 2nd floor of Pontocho Asahi Building, 214-1 Nabeyacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto
8. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lovers Flock to Pub Rock Stock
Now THIS is a nook. (Or possibly cranny.) Pub Rock Stock is a hole in the wall made for lovers of rock and roll, with records lining the walls. It’s small, but the owner is a lot of fun and welcoming to any who wander in. From the outside, you might think it’s some kind of bike garage with how it’s set up, but inside, you get a cool bar with some very budget-friendly drinks and rockin’ music.
- Open 8 pm until midnight
- Address: 317-7 Nishiirikikuya-cho, Ninomiya-cho, Kaminoguchi-dori, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto
Kyoto Nightlife and Local Libations Across Asia
I hope you enjoyed this little peek into Kyoto nightlife. If you’re curious about the bar scene and nightlife in other Asian cities, you should check out my post on the best rooftop bars in Hong Kong!
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