As one of the world’s great cultural hubs, Hong Kong arrived surprisingly late to the modern cocktail movement. Today, the city is making up for lost time, emerging at the forefront of all sorts of drink-related trends; from Chinese vinegar-based tipples to high-minded molecular mixology.
The scene spills out from spaces spanning the gamut from gritty street side dives to ultra-luxe hotel rooftops. Dense and ambitious, a week of bar-hopping your way thru the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ is barely enough time to scratch the surface. Before breaking out the passport, arm yourself with this professional insight from a few of the locals.
ASK A LOCAL
“Hong Kong has always been the place for splurging on eating and drinking,” explains Ana Souza, bartender at the Pontiac. “But specifically in the past few years, a big amount of cocktail clubs have opened their doors all around town, and the level of craftsmanship has grown immensely.”
The Pontiac / Photo Credit: The Pontiac
The watering hole she calls home helped to raise the bar, so to speak. Born in 2015 as an American-style dive bar with retro, grunge appeal, the Pontiac introduced sorely-needed nonchalance to the city. Although the vibe is casual, and the cocktails playful (their most infamous drink, the Heisenberg, is a Breaking-Bad inspired slushy), the execution is serious enough to have landed the bar recognition as one of the World’s 50 Best Bars.
TRIED AND TRUE BARS
But being buzz-worthy today hardly guarantees success tomorrow. “The speed of the city translates into the speed of trends, constantly changing. It’s not all puppies and rainbows,” Souza warns. “Due to the high real estate prices, and other forks on the road, the amount of bars opening and closing is also fast-paced.”
Earl Grey Caviar Martini at Quinary / Photo Credit: Quinary
As for other reliable stalwarts Souza recommends Quinary for their molecular techniques — Earl Grey martini with caviar and foam? You got it! The Lobster Bar gets an endorsement for classics, presented with sophisticated pageantry. The Stockton gets nods for its old-school gentlemen’s club reimagined as steampunk vibe. And the BackBar at Ham & Sherry, a cozy, hidden gem offering one of the finest selections of fortified wines outside of the Iberian peninsula is highly advised.
NEW YORK BY WAY OF HONG KONG
The runaway success of these varied concepts has attracted the attention of some big names back West. This past June, Employees Only entered the fray. OGs of the New York craft cocktail renaissance, this marks their fourth location worldwide.
Employees Only Hong Kong Grand Opening / Photo Credit: Employees Only
“Upon the success of our Singapore outlet, Hong Kong was a natural next step,” says co-founder Igor Hadzismajlovic. “It compares to New York when it comes to the energy level, the competition, and the appetite for eating and drinking, like no other. The crowds truly go all night, and are ravenous for new and interesting experiences.”
QUALITY LOCALES AND SPIRITS
To keep themselves relevant, even the high-end hotels of Hong Kong have had to significantly step up their bar programs. At the Grand Hyatt, seated along the dramatic cityscape of Victoria Harbour, beverage manager Julien Peros takes on the task. Having access to quality spirits is key. “Hong Kong is a place where whisky options are plentiful,” he notes. To wit, the property’s al fresco Waterfall Bar stocks single malts ranging up to three decades in age.
One of the world’s great skylines is also a fitting backdrop to a poolside highball constructed with Yamazaki 18. More elaborate victuals assembled here utilize fresh fruit, and organic mint plucked from the hotel’s rooftop garden.
Hong Kong Skyline / Photo Credit: Yun Xu
Inside the property, Peros riffs on bubble-based cocktails at the Champagne Bar, noting that local drinkers are increasingly focused on the details of what goes into the glass. “Our guests are starting to learn more about vintages and grape varieties,” he observes. “They also look for smaller growers, and love to try something new and interesting.” Enter the Central Park, a Sidecar-inspired spritzer combining dry Brut with Hennessy VSOP and Cointreau.
The defining characteristics of Hong Kong — dynamic and diverse, global and grandiose — can easily be applied to the drinking culture that has developed here. Combine this atmosphere with an already frenetic nightlife, and you have the recipe for a booze scene like no other.