Nightlife If New York is the city that never sleeps, Kyoto is the one that likes to retire at a sensible hour with a mug of cocoa and a book. There are nightclubs, but you can count the good ones on the fingers of one hand, and they don’t all party until sunrise. Trends move at a glacial pace, and many of the liveliest bars close by midnight, even at weekends. If you like your cities to light up at night, pay a visit to Osaka – only a 29-minute train ride away.
Of course, intimacy has its advantages. Venue hopping is a breeze when most of the bars and clubs are packed into a few blocks. When major acts visit Kyoto, they play in venues a fraction of the size they might fill in Tokyo or other clubbing capitals. Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin, François K and Masters at Work have all played here, to crowds of 300 rather than 3,000.
A two-decade veteran that shows no signs of wearing out its welcome is Metro, surely the world’s only nightclub inside a subway station. The club features international names and plays an eclectic schedule of house, jazz, hip hop, reggae,’80s cheese and dragqueen disco in a typical month.
For ten years, Metro ruled the club scene in Kyoto, but then came World, a 700-capacity club that inherited stone arches from the previous tenant, an Italian restaurant. Some of Tokyo’s biggest names regularly play here. Look out for Emma, Sugiurumun, Shinichi Ozawa or Towa Tei.
A few blocks north is Sam & Dave, which charges different entrance fees for ladies and gents, throws toga parties and Jack Daniel’s nights, stages flair bartending shows, serves alcopops and draws clubbers in their early twenties.
Rounding off the list of clubs worth a look are Lab Tribe, a big, black box that only tends to work when heavyweight acts such as Layo & Bushwacka! or DJ Krush perform; Rub a Dub , a basement cubbyhole with DJs spinning good sets of Jamaican 45s; and Urban Guild , the most avant-garde club in the city. Record store-bar Japonica is a great place to find out about upcoming parties.
In Japan, homosexuality flies below the cultural radar. The best advice is to head for Osaka, specifically the Doyama district, with its bars, clubs, saunas and sex joints. If you do stay in Kyoto, head for Daria, the most welcoming gay spot.
Kiyamachi and Pontocho
The streets of Kiyamachi and Pontocho sleep all day and perk up at night. Kiyamachi is youthful and rowdy, playing host to the clubs World, Sam & Dave, Urban Guild and Rub a Dub. Pontocho is the classy neighbour, with plenty of cocktail bars and fine restaurants (visit Misogigawa). Linking the two are a dozen alleys packed with lively bars that open late.
The scene consists mainly of domestic acts in smaller venues known as ‘live houses’. The most beloved and atmospheric places to catch a show are two former sake brewhouses: Taku Taku and Jittoku. Taku Taku is the larger of the two, the most central (a block south of our Downtown map) and boasts impressive alumni, including Roy Ayers, John Lee Hooker and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. These days you’re most likely to hear hotly tipped Japrockers. Jittoku is worth the effort it takes to find it.