Big, brash and bombastic Hong Kong speaks another language when it comes to drinking establishments. Its burgeoning breed of speakeasies are sexy, chic – and thanks to Hong Kong’s labyrinthine alleyways, streets and myriad commercial buildings – devilishly hard to find.
Here are Hong Kong’s 10 best Prohibition-style sips.
A grey metal door on a busy Central Hong Kong junction is the only sign of Stockton, a Hunter S. Thompson-inspired hideaway. Squashy leather sofas, glass cabinets stuffed full of flea-market-bought glassware and a hidden cigar room (complete with battered leather chair that dates back to the Second World War) lend this speakeasy a Victorian hideaway feel. Cocktails, named after maverick authors, are inspired by their favourite tipples: Raymond Chandler’s Forty Four, with rum, sherry and marshmallow, is served in an Instagrammable glass fish.
Even five floors up a commercial building in the midst of Hong Kong’s zingiest shopping and entertainment district Tsim Sha Tsui, Butler remains utterly Japanese. Lashings of dark wood and a casual Japanese welcome (irasshaimase) make you feel like you’ve stumbled into a hidden whisky bar in Tokyo’s Shibuya. Set over two levels – the fifth floor does cocktails, the sixth is a whisky bar – and with fewer than 20 seats per floor, reservations are essential.
Every speakeasy worth its salt is hidden behind a façade. Foxglove’s mask is a fancy umbrella shop (which, should the Hong Kong heavens open while you’re inside, will actually sell you one). Behind one of the glass cases is a boxy bar decked out in dark navy and shiny white. The cocktails, inspired by the adventures of fictional British explorer Frank Minza, are stirred with interesting spirits from Japanese whisky to Ocho Blanco. There’s nightly live music, too.
Styled as an iron foundry by Australian design mastermind Ashley Sutton, candlelit Iron Fairies fuses heavy-duty iron tools with 10,000 preserved butterflies hanging from the ceiling. Innovative cocktails and comfort food (think popcorn chicken and burgers) come as standard in this small space underneath a framing shop on the cobbled steps of Pottinger Street.
It’s easy to miss the chrome entrance of J. Boroski if you’re walking down Soho’s slightly sketchy Ezra Lane. Named after the New York ‘mixsultant’ of the same name, this intimate hideaway is part train carriage, part taxidermy shop (watch out for the wall of tarantulas and the tunnel of beetles inside). The bar introduces a cocktail ‘concierge’ service, where drinks are crafted depending on the drinker’s preference.
From the outside, Sheung Wan’s Mrs Pound looks like a Damien Hirst-designed stamp shop. Inside, you’ll find a loud pink and green speakeasy, serving cocktails in delicate chinoiserie teacups (try a Mr Ming’s negroni with tea bitters) and Asian fusion small plates. The glaring neon installation at the back is particularly Instagrammable.
Heavy gold curtains behind a navy wooden door. A discreet gold ‘members only’ sign. These are the only indications of Soho's Feather Boa (38 Staunton St), a bar so low-key it doesn’t have a website or official opening hours (hint: it gets going after 10pm). Inside, it’s an antique lover’s dream with brassy tasselled lamps, oval mirrors and impressionist paintings hung everywhere. Of all the cocktails, the strawberry daiquiris and espresso martinis are the most lusted-after.
Ping Pong Gintoneria
Ping Pong Gintoneria proves that speakeasies don’t have to be tiny. This generously sized former ping pong parlour is sandwiched between a local restaurant and a gallery in the fast-gentrifying neighbourhood of Sai Ying Pun. Push the neat red door (the light above indicates when it’s open), and descend into a basement neon-soaked gin palace, where Hong Kong’s hipsters and casualistas sip goblets underneath high ceilings. Ping Pong also does a neat line in Spanish small plates.
Imported from New York, Lan Kwai Fong’s Employees Only proves that speakeasies can have global appeal and still remain utterly mysterious (the only hint of the bar’s location is the neon-lit red ‘psychic’ sign in the window). A long wooden bar, accented by strip lights, is staffed by some of Hong Kong’s most knowledgeable bartenders, who serve up a storming list of reworked classic cocktails.
The Old Man
Aberdeen Street’s The Old Man is a friendly homage to Ernest Hemingway and his novel The Old Man and The Sea. Each of the reasonably priced, experimental cocktails in this teensy-tiny drinking den, masterminded by former Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La bartender Agung Prabowo, is named after one of the American writer’s novels. Old in name only, this trendy spot is constantly packed with Hong Kong’s most discerning drinkers.