Every type of spirit has its devoted followers, but gin lovers — those who appreciate the flavours of bracing botanicals and a crisp, refreshing quality — are a special breed. Simply put, those who don’t like gin really don’t like gin; those of us who do, on the other hand, take great pleasure in indulging our passion by trying as many kinds as possible, each with its own unique taste and composition. Fortunately, there’s a new destination in town for gin lovers to flock to: the curiously named Dr. Fern’s Gin Parlour, which boasts the largest selection of the spirit in Hong Kong, with more than 250 gins produced around the world sitting on its shelves.
Much like its sister establishment Foxglove, Dr. Fern’s is a speakeasy, though this one is hiding in plain sight. In the basement of Landmark Atrium, next to the steps leading down to the MTR, you’ll see two doors side by side. Only one of them will lead you to the bar — we’ll let you figure out which one on your own.
Once inside, you’ll find a handsomely decorated, intimate space made to look like a vintage apothecary with wooden shelving, hand-painted wallpaper, and various ingredients sitting inside glass jars. The lighting is soothing; the music a mix of jazz, soul, and funk; and the vibe is classy but relaxing — an ideal environment for enjoying one of the good doctor’s concoctions to aid with your “stress-related symptoms”. As the writer Joan Didion once noted, “Alcohol has its well-known defects as a medication for depression but no one has ever suggested—ask any doctor—that it is not the most effective anti-anxiety agent yet known.”
The drinks program is overseen by head bartender Gerry Olino — formerly of the esteemed Lobster Bar at Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong — who is mixing up cocktails using local and organic ingredients, such as strawberries, sourced from local farms in the New Territories. Accordingly, the daily selection of cocktails varies based on what ingredients are on hand. In this way, Dr. Fern’s resembles an ethics-minded farm-to-table restaurant, a move that we applaud.
One drink that’s always in season is a gin & tonic, and careful attention is paid here to the way it’s prepared and served, in order to maintain the integrity and flavour of the spirit. It’s common for a G&T to be made by pouring warm gin over ice before adding cold tonic, a method that melts the ice and dilutes the gin. At Dr. Fern’s Olino and his staff keep several types of gin in a freezer to avoid this problem. Also in the freezer are tall, slim Collins glasses that help to concentrate the carbonation of the tonic as well as the aromas of the gin.
Gin & tonic selections include Fords Gin & Fever Tree Tonic (HK$88), garnished with dried juniper and orange peel, and Bloom Gin & Fentimans Tonic (HK$110), garnished with strawberries and an edible flower. At the moment, Dr. Fern’s is the only bar in Hong Kong to serve the rare Blind Tiger Gin, made with premium-quality botanicals and distilled in Belgium; here, it’s served with Fever Tree Tonic and garnished with grated lime and rosemary (HK$175).
Plates of cheese and charcuterie are available for snacking, and there is a small selection of wine and other spirits for those guests who don’t care for gin, though really they have no place here. During daytime hours, Dr. Fern’s will also serve premium tea (Provider Tea and T Totaler Tea) and coffee (Dimattina Coffee), and there are plans to launch an afternoon tea menu in April.
In case you’re wondering who Dr. Robben Fern is, there’s an elaborate backstory about his romantic affairs with Mrs. Pound — the woman behind the eponymous Sheung Wan restaurant — and you can ask the staff if you want to hear all the details. All you really need to know is that Dr. Fern is an eccentric guy with a passion for premium ingredients and making creative concoctions for you, his patients.
Hong Kong already has several bars designed to thrill gin lovers — Ping Pong 129 Ginotería, Ori-Gin, and Artesian Bar come to mind — but we’re happy to add one more to the mix. With its focus on local ingredients and its unbeatable selection of bottles, this is one spot where we suspect we’ll go to enjoy a G&T regularly.
Dr. Fern’s Gin Parlour, Shop B31A, First Basement Floor, Landmark Atrium, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2111 9449, facebook.com/DrFernsHK