Nara, home to the famous bowing deer, is often seen as the more cosmopolitan, country cousin to Osaka. There may not be loud glittery nightclubs like in Shinsaibashi, but the city has a selection of classy bars that are perfect for either a quick drink after dinner or a late night bar crawl. What Japan’s former capital lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Here are the best bars to end (or begin) your night in Nara.
Bar, Japanese, Pub Grub, $$$
In a small city like Nara, it’s almost a surprise to see a world class bar like Lamp Bar. The owner, Michito Kaneko, was named “Best Bartender in the World” in a competition in 2015. His bar isn’t just considered the best in Nara, but one of the best in Japan. There is no menu, but Kaneko can make any request and often creates his own exotic cocktails designed for the customer in mind. With no menu also comes no prices and all that class costs some money. Be prepared to spend upwards of 2,000 yen (US$17) per drink.
Another well known bar is LBK Craft. A self styled “gastropub”, LBK is a casual place to grab a pint of Japan’s best craft beers. It’s not just a beer bar though, there’s also wine and a selection of nihonshu, aka sake. Besides alcohol, the owners, Bob and Lily Perkins, pride themselves on the quality of their food. With menu items like craft beer battered fried chicken and many vegetarian options, LBK is a bar that truly offers something for everyone.
Bar Chillout is a cozy little joint you’ll never want to leave. Set up like a lounge, plush vintage chairs are scattered about, perfect for an intimate conversation or making a new friend. Besides Japanese beer and mixed drinks, they make a few enticing dishes like shrimp pasta. Don’t want to sit around and drink? Upstairs are private VIP rooms available for karaoke, games, and watching movies. This space is especially popular for large groups, so booking ahead is encouraged.
Naramachi Hostel and Restaurant is perfect for anyone who fancies a drink inside a living piece of history. What used to be a 160 year old soy sauce factory is now a well designed restaurant and “speakeasy”. Tucked away in an old warehouse is a hidden bar. The first floor only has 6 counter seats and upstairs is a lounge area suitable for couples or very small parties. Besides an extensive wine list, they also prepare signature cocktails like Juno, a gin based cocktail with citrus juice, rose syrup, bitters, and wasabi.
ShinOmiya Rokuchome Yokocho is a lively izakaya that’s an interesting take on the traditional Japanese yatai. 6 different food stands are in one central room and it’s all counter service. Order food and drinks from the different stalls and bring them back to the plastic patio chairs and tables set up around the stalls. This is not a fancy glass of wine place, this is where you go to rub elbows with locals and drink beer and eat yakitori.