Forget the Kyoto cliches of hushed cobbled streets and silent bows to greet you: Bee’s Knees, in the city’s rollicking Kiyamachi district offers gregarious hospitality and a roaring good time. The theme is prohibition-era speakeasy, with exposed brickwork, subdued lighting and, naturally, a decoy façade – in this case a bright yellow door with a sign for “The Book Store”.
On the other side of that door, past a heavy black curtain, flair bartenders Toru Ariyoshi and Tatsunari Namatame serve playful renditions of 1920s favourites like the namesake classic, but with yuzu in place of lemon, or their Manhattan with PB&J. The bittersweet, rye-based Not Godfather is served with a miniature Capone-style Homburg hat, and you might spot a Mary Pickford on the ever-changing chalkboard specials. The Americana comes with a generous helping of local flavour. Negronis come with houji tea, and basil smashes are sweetened with mirin and shaken with Kyoto’s KiNoBi gin. As the bar enters its fifth year there’s nothing secret about this speakeasy anymore, but its third appearance on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list is proof that Bee’s Knees lives up to its name.