5 Of Our Favorite Cocktail Bars In Kyoto

Bars and nightlife may not be the first things that come to mind when travelers go to Kyoto.

This classy city, however, has more than enough top-notch bars and creative mixology to keep you busy at night. Just spend a night stumbling around the countless bars and restaurants in Ponto-cho and you’re in for a good time. Here are our five favorite cocktail bars in Kyoto where you can catch a fabulous tipple and a fun vibe!

 

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Bar Alchemist

Japan, 〒604-8014 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Kashiwayacho, 170 かつやビル2F

Bar Alchemist is conveniently located at the start of Kashiwaya-cho, as one of the first bars that you’ll encounter when you enter the bustling Ponto-cho district. The bar is not-so-discreetly hidden behind shelves of liquor on the 2nd floor of a small strip mall type complex. Don’t let the touristy location turn you off. Behind those shelves, there’s an excellent cocktail bar serving highly original cocktails that you’re unlikely to encounter elsewhere.

Bar Alchemist
Bar Alchemist. PHOTO NADIA CHO

The ambience of the bar is stately and classic, while the cocktail menu is colorful and eclectic. There are remixed versions of classic cocktails with exciting twists, which indicate that there are seasoned mixologists who know what they’re doing. We love the Miyako Martini made with craft Japanese gin, sake and yuzu bitters. The fun part is the martini comes in a red lacquer teapot and is a perfectly balanced mix of citrus and alcohol. Our next must-try recommendation is the Yang guifei or Chinese Queen, made with rum, elderflower, blue curacao and lychee puree: another delightful ambrosia that’s bright and balanced, in which all the flavors dance on your tongue.

Bar Alchemist Yang Guifeng
Bar Alchemist Yang Guifeng. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Bar Alchemist classic decor
Bar Alchemist classic decor. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Bar Alchemist craft cocktails
Bar Alchemist craft cocktails. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Bar Alchemist is the perfect spot to start the night, with its convenient location at the beginning of Ponto-cho and fabulous cocktails that you’ll want to order again and again! SEE ALSO: Inside Tsuki no Katsura: 350 Years Of Kyoto’s Most Prestigious Sake

Bar Alchemist Miyako Martini
Bar Alchemist Miyako Martini. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Gion Finlandia Bar

570-123 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0074, Japan

There’s no doubt that Gion Finlandia Bar is one of the top destinations for high-end cocktail bars in Kyoto. Located in a former geisha house in the historic Gion district, Finlandia Bar delivers immaculate cocktails within an elegant, minimalist aesthetic. The main room is giving Scandi-chic, with a gorgeous wide blonde wood bar and similar wooden accents. There’s a private room on the 2nd floor with tatami mats which has been preserved from the days when it was still a geisha house, which guests can reserve as well.

Gion Finlandia Bar exterior
Gion Finlandia Bar exterior. PHOTO NADIA CHO

The cocktail menu favors vodka, as expected from a Finnish-themed bar which is also a nod to the vodka brand with the same name. The bar has special cocktails like the Nordic Sour which features dill infused vodka with cranberry, as well as its own Espresso Martini featuring coffee-infused vodka, anise, sherry and orange bitters. The one cocktail we absolutely recommend is the Kushinada Hime, which features Tsuki no Katsura sake, the prestigious sake which is brewed right in Kyoto in the Fushimi district. Mixed with Kinobi gin, the cocktail is impossibly smooth with delicate notes that are brought out in what can easily be considered Kyoto’s best sake.

Gion Finlandia Bar
Gion Finlandia Bar. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Gion Finlandia Bar Kushinada Hime
Gion Finlandia Bar Kushinada Hime. PHOTO NADIA CHO

For a top-notch craft cocktail experience, Gion Finalandia Bar is the top destination in Kyoto which cocktail aficionados should not miss.

Gion Finlandia Bar old geisha house
Gion Finlandia Bar old geisha house. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Bar KAKTEL バー カクテル (classics&modern twists,モダンカクテル)

Japan, 〒605-0086 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Benzaitencho, 5 ルイ一世ビル 3F

Bar Kaktel came recommended by multiple local bartenders, which is how you know it’s a good one! It’s also a speakeasy that’s very well-hidden so be prepared to spare a few minutes searching for the clandestine bar that’s quietly tucked away on the 3rd floor of a bare strip mall around the corner from Yamato-bashi Bridge.

Bar Kaktel bartender
Bar Kaktel bartender. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Once you find it and enter through a narrow hallway, you’ll be transported to an entirely other place and time. Bar Kaktel is tiny and intimate, centered around a six-top bar lit by old-fashioned lamps and a couple of small tables nearby. The decor feels like a mix of Victorian and old-timey Americana. The bartender will most likely be an effortlessly dapper chap who will amicably chat you up and blow your mind with an entirely original cocktail.

Bar Kaktel old timey decor
Bar Kaktel old timey decor. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Bar Kaktel Pear Reviver No 2
Bar Kaktel Pear Reviver No 2. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Bar Kaktel Pumpkin Pie
Bar Kaktel Pumpkin Pie. PHOTO NADIA CHO

The cocktail menu is seasonal and packed with surprising and bold flavors. A perfect example is a tipple from last fall’s menu, the Mushroom Cappuccino, made witih Islay, malt and mushroom soup; described as a fluffy and savory “iced soup cocktail with smoky flavor.” There was also a Pumpkin Pie Punch, mixed with rum, milk and pumpkin. As the bartender served it, he commented that he had never tried real pumpkin pie before. But lo and behold, the cocktail tasted exactly like a slice of authentic American pumpkin pie, with the perfect amount of sugar and spice.

Bar Kaktel
Bar Kaktel. PHOTO NADIA CHO

The mixologists at Bar Kaktel have no fear playing with big flavors, whether it’s mixing chocolate into an old-fashioned or putting a dollop of fig jam in a brandy sour. And you can bet that every one of thee big swings come out tasting absolutely delicious. Anyone looking for exciting mixology in a low-key intimate vibe is guaranteed to love Bar Kaktel. SEE ALSO: Here are the Best Cocktail Bars in Tokyo

Side B 京都市

191-7 Shimokorikicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8016, Japan

Kenji-san has been serving drinks behind the stately bar at Side B for over 20 years, more or less by himself. This very cool, low-key bar is a classic institution in Kyoto’s Pontocho nightlife. The way most people find their way to the bar is thanks to the iconic red neon sign which simply says “Bar,” hanging in a dark, narrow alley. Three simple letters which beckon you to ring the doorbell and make your way up to the intimate, dark red loft above.

Side B neon sign
Side B neon sign. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Once you enter the bar, you’ll be greeted by exposed brick walls and classic wooden beams that are warmly lit by the neon red sign that spells “Side B.” With the sweet, mellow sounds of jazz floating from the record player, you’ll feel like you’re in a cool but casual cocoon.

Side B Gin Tonic
Side B Gin Tonic. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Side B custom drinks
Side B custom drinks. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Side B custom cocktail
Side B custom cocktail. PHOTO NADIA CHO

And behind the bar, you’ll find the dapper Kenji-san who’s ready to offer warm conversation and the perfect nightcap. We should mention that there’s no menu at Side B. You just tell Kenji what you’re feeling, and he’ll whip up something that you’re likely to fancy. So just sit back, relax and take in the effortlessly cool and mellow vibes of one of Kyoto’s most classic cocktail bars! SEE ALSO: Why InterContinental Osaka Is The Most Epic Urban Getaway

Side B Bar
Side B Bar. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Honey Better Bar

Nabeyacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8015, Japan

Honey Better Bar is the move for when you want a chill, low-key bar that’s not fussy to hang out in  for casual drinks. And the best part is that it’s one of the few bars in the main nightlife area that doesn’t charge cover. The location is prime, right at the starting tip of Ponto-cho alley. The inside of the bar is sleek and minimalist, with a polished wood bar and bottles resting on neat shelves. There’s usually a mix of locals and tourists having casual drinks and the friendly bartender typically joins in on the buzz.

Honey Better Bar
Honey Better Bar. PHOTO NADIA CHO

This is the type of bar where you can order any classic cocktails or well drinks. Although, the bar does have a few fruity cocktails of the puree sort that the bartender will happily whip up for you. Honey Better Bar is a solid hideaway for when you just want a decent drink in a chill atmosphere without the fuss and price tag of a more upscale mixology bar.

Honey Better Bar no cover
Honey Better Bar no cover. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Honey Better Bar classic G&T
Honey Better Bar classic G&T. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Honey Better Bar minimalist decor
Honey Better Bar minimalist decor. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Nadia Cho

Communications Associate

As the empowered female behind the blog: International Women of Mystery, Nadia reps Team JST traveling the world in search of exclusive features on hidden gems and cool hotspots. You can find her exploring metropolitan cities or lounging on tropical beaches.

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