On a quiet backstreet, just west of Kawaramachi, sits Tsurugi, a shabby little bar with bad plumbing and uncertain opening hours that I love. Two years ago I strolled into this bar quite by chance and was immediately struck by how friendly both the master and his customers were. People can be a bit stuck-up in Kyoto so this was no small thing. The master, Ueno-san, took over this bar 15 years ago, and retained the name bestowed by the previous owner who was a kendo player. 剣 you see means “Sword”. There’s nothing so strict, or firm or sharp about the bar Tsurugi though. The atmosphere is free and accepting and the conversation friendly and frank. I may as well make it plain that this is a small bar, and nobody here speaks English, so if you can’t speak Japanese there is really no point in coming. But if you can speak Japanese you will encounter a loyal and friendly crowd of local regulars from all walks of life; factory workers, shop staff, salarymen, businessmen, musicians, writers and monks…
Tsurugi is a music bar, with an emphasis on rock music both Japanese and Western of the 60s and 70s, but not exclusively so. And on some nights, someone will pull down the battered old guitar in the corner and sing a song, or Kyari, another (usually drunken) regular, will play his harmonica, and astound everyone with his virtuosity before putting his head back down on the counter and falling asleep. I’ve met some very good characters here and also learned a lot about music and feel very fortunate to have discovered such a unique place.
Ueno-san was a cook before he took over Tsurugi, so if you’re peckish he can rustle up some supper for you. The “Om-rice” (omelette packed with stir-fry) at ￥８００ is recommended, as is the humongous “Tsurugi Sando” sandwich also for ￥８００. Here are some more pictures.
Tsurugi is on Urateramachi Street, between Kawaramachi and Shinkyogoku Street. To find it walk north from Loft department store and look for the red light above the doorway. Tsurugi opens around 9.00 p.m and is usually open till dawn. Tel: 075-221-7477.