It feels disingenuous to say that Japanese-style bars — collectively referred to as ōsentikku — are having a “moment”. After all, the Land of the Rising Sun has been exporting this acclaimed style of serious drinking den since the 1990s, at least, and the best have gone on to win all sorts of industry plaudits. Hong Kong, with its geographic and cultural proximity to Japan, has no shortage of outstanding ōsentikku embodying the Japanese reputation for excellence. Despite some distinctive idiosyncrasies, each establishment on this list shares characteristics which are vital to the ōsentikku culture. What does that mean exactly? Classic beverages, a tranquil atmosphere and service that never surrenders substance to spectacle.
Bar De Luxe
For cocktail-sipping Japanophiles, Bar De Luxe is old yet welcome news. The Hong Kong outpost of Bar High Five maestro Hidetsugu Ueno is well into its second year of operation, presided over by Ueno-san’s longtime protegé, Yuriko Naganuma. Despite handsomely appointed interiors with a panoramic view, your attention is unlikely to stray from the bar counter — and that’s saying something. There, Naganuma and her team craft a variety of classic cocktails livened with the addition of rare seasonal ingredients. The bar’s surprisingly good snack food — de rigeur in this kind of Japanese establishment — is epitomised by the jamón ibérico. Bar De Luxe smartly serves its version via candle-warmed ceramics.
Must-try drink: Black Negroni
Bonus tip: Keep an eye out for Ueno-san’s occasional visits to Hong Kong, when the eponymous master takes over for two to three evenings of world-class mixology.
Bar De Luxe, 30/F, Asia Pacific Centre, 8 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 3706 5716
b.a.r. EXECUTIVE BAR
Located in an unassuming commercial building on Yiu Wa Street, b.a.r. EXECUTIVE lives up to its name with an ambience best described as “Japanese corporate executive”. This bemusing description isn’t meant as an insult; rather, b.a.r. EXECUTIVE is the sort of place one comes to enjoy blissful solitude, uninterrupted save for the pleasant clinking of hand-carved ice. Head bartender Ichiro Hiidome is known for his uniquely acrobatic cocktail-making technique, and his concoctions skew midcentury with a very subtle twist. Given b.ar. EXECUTIVE’s popularity with Japanese expats, bookings are essential. But consider yourself lucky — the place used to be “members only”.
Must-try drink: Peach Daiquiri
Bonus tip: For the complete salaryman experience — and as an excellent foil to one of its 300-plus whiskies — b.a.r. EXECUTIVE stocks a range of cigars which may be smoked on premises.
b.a.r. EXECUTIVE BAR, 27/F, Bartlock Centre, 3 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 2893 2080
It’s an open secret that some of Hong Kong’s best ōsentikku are located just a Star Ferry ride away from Central. At the epicentre of it all is Bar Butler — a two-storey establishment channeling classic hospitality through the prism of Ginza’s speakeasy culture. Staffed predominantly by Japanese barmen, Butler prides itself on a drinking experience that is encyclopaedic. Their backbar includes hundreds of whiskies — everything from novel expressions commissioned by Watami to numbered Macallan editions — and is supplemented by comfort food straight out of a Tokyo city guide. Ever wondered how 1980s Hakushu pairs with mentaiko spaghetti? Wonder no longer.
Must-try drink: 1981 Kioke Shikomi malt whisky (Hakushu, Suntory)
Bonus tip: Partake in Butler’s signature welcome ritual involving a complimentary bowl of French onion soup. More than a pleasantry, this amuse bouche is said to aid digestion and appreciation of the bar’s spirits — many of which are above ABV 50!
Bar Butler, 5/F, Mody House, 30 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, +852 2723 4318
Although wine bars are certainly nothing new — their popularity ebbs and flows by the decade — Nocturne exceeds the format’s expectations and then some. Much has been made of this Keyaki Group venue’s clandestine interior, evoking the twilight music synonymous with its namesake. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: the wine roster (overseen by sommelier Yuko Nomaguchi) consists of over 300 varietals, with a balance of old and new world makers represented. Although French winemakers of “first growth” repute dominate the cellar, the team at Nocturne have gone to great lengths to ensure variety. Curious drinkers are likely to find joy in the smattering of well-curated East Asian bottles, while those with a thirst for knowledge may partake in the terroir-focused tastings put on every month. And yes, obstinate gents, fret not — they have quite a bit of whisky, too.
Must-try drink: A vertical tasting of Bordeaux winemaker Leoville Las Cases (St. Julien, Médoc), culminating in the revered 1996 super vintage.
Bonus tip: Almost all of Nocturne’s cellared inventory can be purchased for takeaway — provided you ask nicely.
Nocturne, 5 Peel Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2884 9566\
Here’s an attractive proposition: when your booking at Butler draws to a (bittersweet) close, take the lift up two storeys for a “same same but different” tipple at Bar Buonasera. Overseen by Butler alumnus Nick Tse, this outpost of the original Buonasera (located in Osaka’s Abeno-ku ward) is sure to hit the spot for those craving an additional dosage of classic Japanese mixology. Although the experience is substantially similar to that of Butler, a few location-specific twists have been incorporated in order to distinguish the Hong Kong outpost of Buonasera from its Osakan progenitor.
Must-try drink: Hong Kong Cooler
Bonus tip: Be sure to ask Nick-san about the regular showcases held at Buonasera. Previous sessions have included a cocktail showcase by Kennedy Ck (of Monkey’s Corner in Sydney) and whisky masterclass with Heaven Hill distillery director Justin Ames.
Bar Buonasera, 7/F, Mody House, 30 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, +852 2111 4444