Well, it’s official. David and I have fallen madly and deeply in love with Japan. Our most recent visit in April totally put a ring on it, and we’re already planning another trip early next year. We experienced twelve days of incredible food, hospitality, sake and exploring the culturally rich and different cities of Tokyo and Kyoto. Long time readers will recall that my very first foray into the Drunk In….. series started in Tokyo. Even though we’ve discovered so much more in Tokyo since then, I decided to open up a whole new drunken city to you. Sure, Kyoto is a little milder than Tokyo when it comes to debauched after-hours activities, but that doesn’t mean the city doesn’t have a wildly beating heart hidden beneath its reserved patina. And luckily for you, we’ve done all the hard work to find a bunch of fun things to do when you’re drunk in Kyoto.
Housed in a seriously tiny alcove in front of an office building, Nokishita Edible Garden was our first stop after arriving in town. We took a stroll along the cherry blossom festooned river, goggling at all the gorgeous geisha clad women out and about. And when we got there we enjoyed a very refreshing Hendricks gin and tonic for about AUD6. In fact, we enjoyed two each. There’s no seating (and barely enough room to stand) so this isn’t a place to linger, but it’s certainly a fun start to a night out.
〒604-8022 Kyoto Prefecture, 京都市中京区Nakagyo Ward, Minamikurumayacho, 282
+81 7 5746 5675
0400-0000 (closed Mondays)
It’s a bar and it has rocking chairs. It doesn’t have an English menu but it more than makes up for that with the amazing cocktails that come out when you say “osusume”* to the bartender. We couldn’t stay long because we had a dinner reservation to get to. And that’s probably a good thing as the cocktails we had were so delicious (and strong) we may have ended up spending the whole night there. We each tried a couple of different whiskey cocktails, all of them made with seasonal, local fruit.
* “you decide”
+81 7 5496 8679
1700-0200 (closed Tuesdays)
There are two of these yakitori shops. We’d been to the other one before so decided to give this one a try. First off, let me tell you that it’s very difficult to find (hopefully my google map helps you). We actually got dropped off by the taxi driver nearby and literally followed our noses to peek behind a curtain where we found the tell-tale woodpecker welcoming us in. So, yakitori is basically grilled chicken, but let me assure you that there’s nothing basic about the flavours. The skewers are roasted over special coals, as well as marinated in an assortment of spices and secret ingredients, to impart some pretty damn juicy flavour. The coal is such an important part of yakitori that the origin and species of wood are usually considered as important as terroir is to wine. We ate a lot of chicken, including wings, skin, meatballs, cartilage and thigh. We also asked to try some of their raw chicken sashimi but they were sold out. And yes, we were disappointed. 😉
〒604-8144 Kyoto Prefecture, 京都市中京区Motohonenji cho, 683 烏丸 錦 東入 ル 烏丸 錦 ビル
+81 75 211 3750
We visited this wonderful little hidden bar on our first trip to Kyoto and have been wanting to go back ever since. The owner and bartender basically chucked in his corporate job and opened up a speakeasy in his garage, specialising in his two passions – whiskey and jazz. The first time we visited, in 2013, I didn’t really truly appreciate either of these things. In the three years since, I have developed a passion of my own for both so I totally loved this bar. We spent far longer than we should have, just trying new whiskies (neat, of course) and listening to some amazing music and feeling like the cat that got the milk in terms of being the only non-Japanese in the bar for the whole night. This one is a favourite.
Takakura Dori, Nijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku
+81 75 231 2488
Every good drinking city needs a good coffee joint for those mornings after. Before our trip I compiled a list of third wave coffee places to try (something I do before every holiday) but we just happened upon Drip & Drop by accident and then never ventured from it – the coffee was that good.
ピースホステル三条 B1F, +81 75 231 7222
So the sign outside this ramen place proudly claims that they are number one, not just in Kyoto but the world. Bold. The problem with making such claims is that there are just so many damn good ramen places in Kyoto (and even better ones in Tokyo, sorry RSNK). But this one is definitely worth trying. We arrived about 20 minutes before opening time to find ten people already queued up. Unfortunately for us, this tiny little shop only has ten bar stools. But fortunately for us, we were shown to a special little two seater table in the front window where we promptly ordered some beers (ain’t no better drink to have with ramen). It was nice to have our own little table, but I must admit I’m a sucker for sitting at the bar where you can see all the action in the kitchen. The ramen here is spicy and filling and absolutely delicious. Perfect drinking food.
らーめん千の風京都, 中京区中之町580, 京都市 京都府 604-8042
1200-2200 (closed Mondays)
The specialty at this ice-cream store is soy bean ice-cream. Doesn’t sound very nice, but oh my lord, it’s very nice indeed. The shop serves other flavours too, including green tea, black sesame, black sugar syrup, mugwort and sweet red bean. These are all very traditional Japanese flavours, but hey, you’re in Japan (and they’re all delicious). But my favourite is the basic soy-bean flavour, known as kinako, which is also the only flavour they serve freshly made (as opposed to frozen). The fresh stuff is called dekitate and it is TO DIE FOR. It is the smoothest, creamiest ice-cream I’ve ever had and luckily for us they serve it at the counter for when their upstairs restaurant is full (I’m not sure why, but you aren’t allowed to take the ice-cream away, you must eat it all in the shop). When we visited it was a weekend, and the place was absolutely jam-packed upstairs, and downstairs too, with people waiting for a table. But we got to skip the line and eat our dekitate kinako at the bar while everyone else had to wait. Suckers!!! The next time we went (oh yes, we went again – and again) we made sure it was a weekday and we didn’t have to wait at all. Yum, yum, yum!!!!
Higashiyama-ku, Gion-machi Minami-gawa 570-119
+81 75 525 8300
NO NAME SMOOTHIE BAR
Sometimes the life of a Drunk In….. blogger isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After lunch one day we went in search of a bar (any bar) to while away a few hours before dinner (OK, it actually is a pretty good life). Sadly for us we just couldn’t find one. Giving up, we decided to go home and chill out instead (where we knew that there was a bottle of whiskey with our names on it). Walking home we happened upon a cute little house with pictures of drinks out the front. Thinking that we had stumbled upon a bar after all, we got quite excited and prepared to enter. But then I realised that the photos were of smoothies and fruity teas. Deflated, we started walking away. But then it hit us, why the hell not have a smoothie!!? Why not indeed. We knocked on the door and were greeted and welcomed (albeit with some surprise) into the home of a lovely little Japanese lady wearing a homely apron around her waist. We took off our shoes and were led through her living room, which was set up as a juice bar, and into the tatami room beyond – the room reserved for esteemed guests! Eeeek!! We bowed as she retreated and sat down on our heels and just looked at each other and giggled. Not a word had been exchanged between us and the lady and we were wondering what she thought we were doing there. Not to worry, before long she reappeared with a menu (thank goodness it was one with photos) and we each selected a delicious looking drink which we could hear her whipping up with a blender in the other room. It was kind of weird to be sitting in someone’s TV room with pictures of her kids on the mantle and completely unable to communicate. But weird in a very fucking cool way. I was really glad that we took a chance on that smoothie because not only was it delicious, it was an absolutely lovely experience. And I think she thought so too.
So, it’s not all about drinking and eating on our vacations. We like to squeeze a little bit of culture in there from time to time and in Kyoto we did that with a private tea ceremony. Now this experience was just awesome. So much better and more fun than I’d expected (and definitely more than David expected). It’s something I would recommend to everyone visiting Kyoto because it gives you an insight into a ritual that is fast disappearing. The kids of today aren’t really interested in learning about it, so sadly, one day it might be lost for good. I hope not because it’s something that is steeped in history and culture and ceremony and it’s a wonderful way to connect with people through structured conversation. The 45 minute ceremony began with the host explaining the reason for the ritualistic aspects of the ceremony (including the utensils used) and then moved onto the four principles of every ceremony which are purity, respect, harmony and tranquility. It’s super fascinating to discover that every single element of the ceremony, from the movements of the host, to the wood that is used to make the tea spoon represents something, means something. In a world where meaning has been replaced by convenience, it was really nice to experience something meaningful.
〒605-0063 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Matsubaracho, 272
+81 80 3782 2706
MAN SA GAMA (POTTERY EXPERIENCE)
So it’s springtime in Kyoto. Which means that there are shitloads of stunning cherry blossoms to be seen everywhere. But nowhere are there more to be seen than on the 2km long Philosopher’s Path. This is an absolutely stunning walk (and the thousands of other people who were there that day obviously agreed). Yes, it is tourist-ridden. But it’s a must-do in Kyoto. Another must-do? Making your own cup at Mansagama Pottery, a little shop about half way through the walk. When we saw dozens of little cups and bowls lining the shelves inside the shop we asked if we could buy them and were told they weren’t for sale. But!!! But, we could make our own!!!! How exciting. The whole process from jumping with glee at the prospect of getting my “Ghost” on, to washing my hands at the end took only 20 minutes. We had them shipped to Australia so I still haven’t seen them but I’m super excited to have my own little cup (with my name etched on the bottom in Kanji).
606-8404 Kyoto, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto Jodojishita Minamida-cho, 148
+81 75 751 8199
OK, so you’re thinking pottery, philosophy, blah blah blah. Where’s all the drinking and eating? Of course as we meandered down the Philosopher’s Path I was on the lookout for a little izakaya in which to quench our thirst – but to no avail. Plenty of teahouses; not much in the way of sake houses. But lo and behold, just when I was giving up all hope I looked across the canal to see a little handmade stand announcing that there was fried chicken and beer to be had. I got mad excited, not so much for the beer or fried chicken but because this place was just fucking amazing. A little lady had decided to set up shop on one of the most touristic routes in the country. Brilliant!!! She’d set up an esky with cold brews and she cooked the chicken fresh to order. And it was delicious. I just instantly fall in love with places like this. I can’t guarantee that she’ll be there if you go visit, but if she is you must drop in. Say hi from us.
CLICK FOR MAP OF PHILOSOPHER’S PATH – you’ll have to find the chicken stand yourself, but I’d say it’s about 3/4 of the way down if you’re heading south.
The final stop on our Drunk In….. tour of Kyoto was Gyoza Chao Chao. We had been hankering for gyoza (fried Japanese dumplings) from Day One, but had yet to find some. On our last night I took to the internet to find “best gyoza in Kyoto” – hey, when you’re desperate, you go there. And Gyoza Chao Chao came up. So off we went to wait in line for about an hour in the chilly evening air. Luckily we’d already had a few drinks so we didn’t feel the cold, or the time, too acutely. And before we knew it we were summoned into the shop where, upon entering, the entire room shouted and cheered us in, as though we were old friends they’d been waiting for, for hours. There’s something to be said for such a warm welcome. It set a friendly, relaxed and fun tone for the meal ahead. And what a meal it was. We ordered about five serves of gyoza and devoured them as if we hadn’t eaten food in over a week. They were delicious. So much so we decided to also try their steamed dumplings. I ALWAYS put on weight when we go to Japan and this is the reason why, but it’s totally, totally worth it.
+81 75 251 0056
M-F: 1700-late, S-S: 1400-late