Sep. 02, 2019 UPDATE
Drinking and Walking through Kyoto Summer Nights
Part 3

Master Kyoto and enjoy a magical night in Pontocho

In this part, we’ll introduce you to Pontocho, a street filled with long-standing restaurants, and bars aimed at more in-the-know patrons.
Securing a spot as one of the foremost sightseeing destinations in downtown Kyoto, Pontocho is a charming wee street teeming with the feeling of ancient Kyoto.
This alleyway-like street is sure to have you enjoying a magical time and is the perfect spot for late-night walks and Nomi-aruki bar hopping.
What kind of place is Pontocho?
What kind of place is Pontocho?
Sandwiched between the Kamogawa and Takasegawa rivers, Pontocho stretches roughly 500 meters north to south and with its small, cobblestone streets is one of six Geisha districts or Hanamachi in Kyoto. Standing shoulder to shoulder, the old Kaiseki restaurants, Izakaya pups, bars, and drinking holes are what bring Pontocho to life. This quaint street has become a favorite among not only locals but domestic and international tourists as well. Although a little intimidating at first, you’ll quickly find that Pontocho is filled with nothing but amazing places.
If you’re in Kyoto, then Pontocho is definitely worth a visit at least once.
Pontocho’s History
Pontocho’s History
Pontocho’s history stretches all the way back to around 1712 when a rest stop offering tea called Mizuchaya was opened there. The street also found its origins in the ladies of the night who stood along the street beckoning the workers of the Takasegawa River to come enjoy their inns. At the beginning of the Meiji Era, the street established itself as a Geisha district and is thought to be the place where the famous Geisha dance “Kamogawa Odori” was first performed.
Origins of the name Pontocho
Origins of the name Pontocho
The sound “pon” in the name is rarely found in Japanese. Although just a theory, the reason behind this rare name is said to be because the name “Pontocho” actually has its roots in Portuguese (ponto meaning point or spot). There is still much mystery behind why Portuguese, but nevertheless, the street and its name have come to be synonymous with Kyoto.
Head to Pontocho to top off a summer’s night
When coming off the intense main street of Shijo-dori, Pontocho will seem like a completely different world. The traditional Machiya townhouses each display different sized paper lanterns which reflect their gentle light off the cobblestone pavement below. As you walk down the cramped streets, past like-minded patrons, you’ll come across entrances to smaller alleyways, leading to small, hidden away doors. Although Pontocho is meant to be a bustling street made to only head straight down, with every new step, you’ll find something new that stops you in your path. Kyoto is home to many Geisha districts and drinking holes, but even in this city, it’s rare for both of these two to mix, let alone in such a lively, energized fashion.

As you make your way down Pontocho, you’ll notice the plethora of restaurants and other eaters. Of course, many of these are places loved by locals, but in recent years there has been an increase in modern restaurants and bars that utilize and reform the old architecture of the Machiya townhouses. Pontocho is also home to many casual Izakaya pubs and places kindly displaying English menus outside their stores. This street is truly a combination of long-held traditions and modern styles.

Enjoy summer nights in Kyoto among the streaming lights of the paper lanterns and smells of the restaurants and bars that line this magical street.
A night in Pontocho – Sharing Kyoto’s recommended bars
After strolling through Pontocho and taking in the sights and sounds of the street, you will likely be feeling ready for a drink. Pontocho is home to numerous bars, but if you’ve made your way through and gotten comfortable with the street, then we want to introduce you to some bars you can sit back and relax in.

Below we will introduce you to three of the Sharing Kyoto team’s most recommended bars in Pontocho.
BAR Atlantis
BAR Atlantis
For those wanting to enjoy a drink on a river-side Kawayuka terrace, the BAR Atlantis is the place for you! With refreshing mojitos and Atlantis original cocktails, BAR Atlantis offer a huge range of cocktails made for hot summer nights. This bar has and continues to make a name for itself on the historied streets of Pontocho.
BAR Sand
BAR Sand
Situated in the Pontocho side of 13 Ban Roji (Alleyway 13), this hidden away bar is defined by its warm and cozy atmosphere. BAR Sand is most well known for their refreshingly sweet, and just right for summer Moscow Mule, which uses a homemade ginger syrup. Also, they offer all varieties of beer and whiskey.
Each cocktail is served in glasses by Kyoto born glass maker Genta Suzuki.
When you want to take a break from exploring Pontocho, we highly recommend making your way to BAR Sand.
Hello Dolly
Hello Dolly
End your day of adventuring around Kyoto with some Jazz at Hello Dolly. Although this jazz bar doesn’t offer any river-side terraces during summer, the view they offer from their windows is just as good. This bar invites you to a fantastmic world as they serve you drinks that fit perfectly with their stream of high-quality jazz.
Hello Dolly’s season fruit cocktails are exquisite and the perfect drink for those wanting to get a taste of summer.
Wrapping it up

Summer nights and Pontocho are made for each other. First enjoy walking down the street, stopping and looking at any places or alleyways that catch your eye, and just enjoy the breeze of a summer's night while you take in all the uniqueness Pontocho has to offer. It's truly a waste in Pontocho to head straight to your destination without looking around properly, so make sure to take your time and look around. Once you've arrived at your destination, every drink you enjoy will be packed with the culture, atmosphere, and history of Kyoto, while still being different from the next.

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