It’s starting to get dark and we’re well templed out. Feet are throbbing from the miles we put in. We’re on vacation and way too sober. I flip on the bardar. It’s beer time.
Shortly into the search a sign catches my eye. Bingo!
Bistro Beer Bar
Looks perfect. There are a number of seats inside but more radtastically there is a window out to a couple seats right on the street.
Lots of familiar labels/stickers on the window. Some I don’t know
We plop down and the bartender comes right over. We’re instantly drawn to our cute owl friend logo from Hitachino Nest but I’ve had all their stuff befo… wait.. what am I talking about? Extra High and an IPA? Yep those’ll do.
Lots and lots of beers here I haven’t tried. I scan the labels in the window looking for something interesting. Some local stuff, some foreigners.
We opt for a couple of IPAs: Shiga Kogen Two Rabbits and Wild Boys, a collaboration from Mondo Brewing in London and Ise Kadoya here in Japan. The Two Rabbits is a little deceiving. It says it’s an IPA but it tastes more like a double to me. It’s a beefy beast w a hefty 9%
A couple comes in and sits down next to us. Sounds like they’re Russian. They order up some wine. I politely introduce myself and they’re straight into “Davai!”. “Is that cheers?”, “Yes! Cheers!”. Her English is a little better so she facilitates most of the conversation between us. But he really wants to try. I don’t know a lick of Russian so good on him. He starts asking me about the beers and I give him the run down on the two we ordered. I warn that the Two Rabbits is basically two beers in one. With that endorsement he’s all about it.
It comes out and he takes a sip. Thumbs up. Alright. He gets a selfie with his beer. Thumbs up. Beer selfie with wifey, thumbs up. (This guy’s all about the thumbs up).
I ask them where in Russia they’re from and Thumbs Up tells me the Ural Mountains Region. “Like the motorbike?”, “Yes, like the bike”. I admit that I don’t know where that is exactly and he describes it to us (I secretly love hearing people talk about their homes). Apparently it’s very cold but beautiful, all forests, rivers, mountains and open… plains…steppe? Yes. Describing the Ural Mountains of course reminds me of the ridiculous Ice Run that The Adventurists put on across Lake Baikal every year. This leads me to the Mongol Rally.
I tell them I’ve been to Russia before. “I was in Barnaul”, “Siberia?”, “Yeah, (I leave out the possible drugging/kidnapping part… story for another time) drove the M58 highway, very beautiful” He seems impressed by this, “Davai!”
Let’s get a pic! Thumbs up, yeeeeeesss!
We down a couple more cold ones with Thumbs Up and his wife and then decide it’s time to mosey on. They’re doing the same but we’re headed in opposite directions. We exchange goodbyes and safe travels and continue on with our nights. What a perfect temple sorbet, thanks Bistro Beer Bar!
On the way back to Gion Hanna we’re passing by shop after shop of really great looking crafts and goodies. Oh dear. Shopping after drinks is dangerous. We pop into an upscale souvenir shop and with our inhibitions buzzed off to space we can barely restrain ourselves
I consult with the Atlas Cat Mystic
Hmmmmm do I need a wrist cushion? I mean.. I don’t have one. Definitely don’t have a Japanese one… Look at these cute kitties! Ok, I don’t need a wrist cushion, that’s stupid. But wait… do I need a wrist cushion?
We can’t help it, there’s too much cuteness and we’re kinda drunk. We walk out with mitts and scarves and gadgets and trinkets and post cards and a hedgehog dress and a little stuffed Totoro and a whole new cute Shiba bag to put it all in later yeeeeeah!!!
We go down to check on the yakitori place Loverboy Mike recommended a few nights back. Dammit! It’s closed today. Wth, we can’t win with this place.
We search the rest of the Gion district shops for a tanuki statue with no luck. Didn’t I read a book where Tanuki was the main character? Oh yeah, Villa Incognito. I tell Queenie that the opening lines from the book describe a demi-god gliding to earth using his giant testicles as a parachute (thanks for that Tom Robbins). “What, tanuki have giant testicles?”, “Well I don’t know about actual raccoon dogs (that would be amazing), but the tanuki from Japanese folklore do”, “Really?”, “Yeah! Look at the next statue we find. That’s why we have to get one!”
While this conversation is going on we pass by a cool looking restaurant. Hmmmm could probably just grab a bite here. Looks pretty dope actually. (Check out Queenie’s giant goodie bag)
We get our humongous gift bag through the door and take a seat. Cool space with eclectic found objects. They’re projecting a movie on the wall. Is that Spy Games? I’ve never actually seen that. There’s a jazzy hip-hop flicking the airwaves. This looks to be a Spanish style tapas place. Menu looks incredible! Good find. Alright, we order up some beer and sangria. Mahou draft. When in Spain…
Aren’t you a fancy spot. We order up a trio of apps to see what the place has to offer: Rabbit pate, Blue cheese puffs and Ox tail spring rolls.
Delightful. Plates cleaned, albeit portions were small. Ok, we’re a little tuckered out now that we’ve walked 10 miles, drank 10 beers, and bought 10 million souvenirs. We head back to our mini apartment at Gion Hanna Stay along the river. Starting to really like this little stretch, it’s getting familiar after a few nights out.
We take a little break in the apartment. Hmmmmm it’s too early, and we’ve had a few too many drinks to be calling it now. We promptly get back out to the streets and decide to hit the neighboring izakaya. Fuck! it’s closed. What about the other o… shit! We get back to the main road that Pig and Whistle is on. Could go back there for a night cap I guess. On the way we find a spot that’s open. Feel Good Bar? Well I’ll be the judge of that, mister.
Upon entering Feel Good we are greeted with a hearty “Hello!” from it’s drunken patrons. That does feel good. Quaint spot. It’s just a central, square bar with about 10 seats around it. Low lighting and, like most public spaces, there’s some smooth jazz playing. There are a group of 3 Italian looking fellas, some English cougars and a couple girls just getting up to leave as we come in. “You can have my seat, darling”, is that Australian? “Thank-you!”
The drink menu has a bunch of funny specialty drinks with names like ‘Cheerfulness in Kyoto’, and ‘Evening twilight in Kyoto’. The temperature of the gins and vodkas is listed, I’ve never seen that before.
The girl behind the bar asks what we want and I order up an Evening Twilight in Kyoto. She’s a little hesitant and asks the older guy about it. He’s on it. He’s chiseling ice. He looks like a master. We scan the room for clues.
Interesting charge system. There’s a 700 yen/person difference between receiving Japanese style service or the free Western style service.
Looks like there’s a certified cocktail adviser in the house! I wonder if we’re being served by Master Miyazaki himself
The Evening Twilight turns out to be a fantastic gin-based, martini-esque cocktail that is incredibly well balanced and only a slight sweetness. Well done sir! This is marvelous.
After he serves us he goes back to chiseling ice. He explains that the ice balls don’t fit in the glasses and he has to whittle them down a bit. He’s gotten quite quick at it.
A couple sit down next to us at the only other open seats for a drink. They’re from Chicago and are doing the reverse trip of what we’re doing. But they also just came from South Korea and loved it. We explain that we were thinking about taking the hydrofoil or whatever from Fukuoka to Busan after we get to Hiroshima. They’re super pumped about Korea, it’s awesome. Ok, good deal, we were kind of on the fence if we’d have time to fit it in. We’ll make time. We’re going to South Korea!
They settle up after one drink and wish us a good trip. The boisterous Italians are out as well. The owner walks each person out the door to the sidewalk. Japan rocks. This leaves just us and the double extra English cougars across the way. They’re roaring amongst themselves and having a fabulous time.
The owner comes back in and I just have to ask if he is the certified cocktail adviser. He is, I knew it. I ask him about himself and this place and he gives us the whole backstory about how he used to be a mechanical engineer. He was working in South Carolina for 9 years and had eventually made his way into a vice president position and finally president of the company. But he always wanted to learn better English and talk to people and he always wanted to own a bar. So he moved back and made it happen. He went to school for bartending and opened up his own place. He doesn’t regret a thing.
He asks where we’re from and we say Canada and Taiwan. He gets super excited about Taiwan. He really really wants to go to Kaoshiung. We tell him about our time there a couple years ago and he has a big smile on his face. He asks if I’ve ever tried Kavalan whiskey from Taiwan and I say that I don’t think I have. He brings some over and lets me try it for free. Oh, that is nice. He also gives Queenie a green tea kitkat.
I ask about another couple of whiskey bottles I’ve been eyeing up and he stocks the table with a plethora of Japanese whiskeys. He starts explaining them to me and pointing out which ones are his favorites. He does this while chipping away at another ball of ice. Well, I’m gonna have to sample a couple of theeeeese.
He tells me there is also a more expensive Kavalan that is aged in a port cask. He doesn’t have it out right now though. I tell him that if he has a bottle somewhere I’ll gladly share a drink of it with him. His face when I said this was absolutely priceless. He nods and goes to the back, returning with a box of the port cask Kavalan and a giant smile. He drops a well chiseled ice ball in my glass and pours over with the Kavalan.
It’s very nice. Malty blackberry and brown sugary up front and then grapes and peppered orange peel in the back. Maybe a tad too port-y for my tastes, but still an excellent whiskey.
He asks where we’re going next and I tell him Osaka. He says that food in Osaka is big. Big quantities. Kyoto people value taste and balance. Osaka wants giant portions. (Do I sense a city rivalry here?)
Alright well it’s getting near closing time, we’re re-smammed, and we’ve gotta get up and book it to Osaka in the morning. I get one last pic of the place, it’s been a great little hangout.
We thank Teiji for the drinks and stories and start to head out. He puts his arm around my shoulders and politely walks us to the door. What a gentleman. He thanks us for coming in and hopes that we have a great trip and that we enjoy all that Japan has to offer. Then he points at my phone and says “Picture, picture!”, “Oh yeah!”
Well Teiji is without a doubt the coolest mechanical engineer turned cocktail adviser I’ve ever met. That was fun. Feel Good checks out.
On the way back to the apartmini we do our new routine of stopping at a family mart to fuel up on late night Q-munchies and nightcap highballs.
Liquored up and stuffed we climb into our tiny beds and crash. Goodnight Totoro…