Ever since the team behind NYC’s Please Don’t Tell announced they were opening their first permanent overseas outpost inside the Landmark, Mandarin Oriental, HK’s cocktail lovers have been waiting with bated breath. Given the original regularly tops “world’s best bar” lists, mixologist Jim Meehan hasn’t strayed too far from his tried-and-tested formula: a hidden entrance disguised as a vintage phone booth, leading to a dimly lit louche-luxe space and a small selection of clever cocktails. Quirky taxidermy – curly-horned goats with bling necklaces, and bespectacled roosters – hangs on the walls above sexy curved banquettes and dark-wood tables that together seat just 30. A stool at the copper-toned bar is best for tête-à-têtes with pals, while the tucked-away corner tables are a hot date spot. The menu delivers classics from the Stateside bar, such as the Shark, a creamy blend of butter-infused rum, Frangelico, Blue Curaçao, lemon and pineapple, but the most interesting cocktails are those with local touches such as the Milky Tea Punch, a boozy Ron Zacapa Centenario-rum-laced take on the condensed milk tea served in Hong Kong’s traditional cha chaan teng diners. Comforting snacks such as jalapeño tater tots dunked in melted cheese round things off nicely. Please Don’t Tell? Shouting about it from the rooftops, more like.
Please Don’t Tell, The Landmark, Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2132 0110
The agave worship starts even before you enter COA’s candlelit industrial space – its name referring to the machete-like tool used to harvest the succulent plant. On entering, first glimpse is of a mural of Aztec goddess Mayahuel, who’s said to have given birth to the first agave plants, while the bar is stocked with some 100 types of agave spirits, from rare tequila and mezcal, to raicilla, tuxca and bacanora. Veteran bartender Jay Khan (previously at hidden-behind-an-umbrella-shop speakeasy Foxglove) is the agave-obsessive behind it, personally visiting each distillery of the bottles he stocks, and often found passionately talking customers through agave tasting flights. The simple space is inspired by the unpretentious cantinas in Oaxaca he visits during research trips to Mexico. Yes, there are brick details and bare concrete walls, yet it doesn’t feel cookie-cutter hipster and the menu is anything but predictable. It features cooling tepache, a pineapple and cinnamon fermented drink; quite-unlike-anything-you’ve-tasted cocktails such as the Horchata de Pistachio that brings together Ocho Blanco tequila, homemade pistachio orgeat (a sweet syrup), horchata (a creamy rice-milk drink), egg white and sweet-potato dust; and a punchy mezcal caffeinated negroni. Yes there are other spirits on offer, but here, it’s really all about the agave.
COA, Shop A, LG/F Wah Shin House, 6-10 Shin Hing Street, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2813 5787
When a triple threat of Hong Kong’s finest bar talent comes together to launch a Hemingway-inspired speakeasy in nightlife hub Aberdeen Street, tongues wag and queues form. Roman Ghale, Agung Prabowo and James Tamang – who’ve helmed the bars at The Upper House, Mandarin Oriental, and Vibes at the Mira Hotel respectively – have, appropriately, created a novel cocktail list named after Hemingway’s novels. Take the umami-rich A Farewell to Arms – butter-fat-washed gin, dry vermouth, salted Pernod served with nori dust – or the bold Death in the Afternoon made with absinthe, sparkling wine and coco-pandan yoghurt. The quietly eccentric selection fits well with the cool surrounds: a unique frozen strip running along the bar to chill tipples; geometric mosaic portrait of the boozy muse himself looking over the bar (crafted from leftover wood and dark marble used for the interiors); and tropical prints snaking over forest-feel bar stools. The go-to drinking den of the moment for Hong Kong’s creative types, conversations prove as interesting as the liquor.
The Old Man, Lower G/F, 37-39 Aberdeen Street, Soho, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2703 1899
The best hidden speakeasies transport you from the humdrum of the everyday in an instant. And Dr Fern’s Gin Parlour, behind a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it doctor’s surgery door, feels a world away from the gleaming, boutique-filled Landmark shopping centre it resides in. It’s part mad-professor’s lab (bar staff in white coats, offering gin “prescriptions”, a cream-trilby-hatted DJ spinning pop in the corner), part Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole décor – fern-fringed wallpaper, lavish oriental screens, a mish-mash of comfy floral-covered furniture, tasselled lampshades and cabinets lined with medicine bottles containing marine curio, labels writ in delicate calligraphy. At last count there were more than 330 different gins on offer, spanning classics such as Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire through to Broken Heart from New Zealand and Australian Kangaroo Island Wild Gin. Whether you opt for a straight-up classic or a cocktail with jazzed-up elderflower tonic, garnished with, say, pink peppercorn and blueberries, juniper junkies, this is your nirvana.
Dr Fern’s Gin Parlour, Shop B31A, First Basement Floor, Landmark, 15 Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2111 9449
Even the swankiest hotels don’t always get the formula right for a go-to cocktail bar. Not so at hot new property The Murray hotel. In the heart of the financial district, its bar, Murray Lane, is tucked on the ground floor, just next to the lobby’s cascading showstopper charcoal installations by Korean artist Bahk Seon-Ghi. Décor is opulent: onyx-black floors and furniture, a mirrored ceiling pinpricked with lights, jewel-bright aquamarine and gold cushions, and gilded artwork creating a vibe of sultry prosperity. Drinks take inspiration from NYC’s trading centre, Wall Street, and head bartender Kervin Unido shakes up fruity Opening Bells (Hennessy VSOP, Pineau des Charentes and wild berry shrub) and The Uptik (Irish whisky, blood orange and cherry) as well as lemongrass and kafir G&Ts and refreshing non-alcoholic Seedlip mocktails for the discerning crowd of winding-down bankers and well-dressed punters, who nibble on small plates of black-truffle fries, quinoa salad and beer-battered fish and chips.
The Murray, 22 Cotton Tree Drive, Central, Hong Kong; +852 3141 8888