Back in July, we first told you about the impending opening of new cocktail bar The Old Man, a joint venture helmed by three veterans of the drinks industry: Agung Prabowo, James Tamang, and Roman Ghale. Now, at last, we’re pleased to offer you an exclusive first look inside this handsome drinking den, now open and slinging expertly made drinks on Aberdeen Street in SoHo.
Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize–winning 1952 novel of the same name, this newcomer pays tribute to the celebrated writer and noted cocktail enthusiast, a man who once remarked, “I drink to make other people interesting.” Both an American expat and an exhaustive traveller, Hemingway is still associated to this day with places such as Paris; Pamplona, Span; Cuba; and Key West, Florida. Naturally, everywhere he went, he joined in the local drinking culture; appropriately, then, the cocktails at The Old Man draw upon a wide variety of influences.
Just as Hemingway himself was an innovative writer, the nine house cocktails at The Old Man fall firmly into the experimental category, each inspired by the writer’s favourite libations but given some surprising and distinctly Asian twists. Consider The Sun Also Rises, a tropical concoction that combines coconut oil fat-washed applejack, curry leaf-infused gin, sweet vermouth sous-vide pandan leaves and kaffir lime. Green Hills of Africa, meanwhile, is a blend of rosemary-infused Pisco, a turmeric & tamarind cordial, and citrus.
We won’t spoil the surprise of what’s in the others, but these are clearly not your everyday cocktails. What we will tell you, however, is that each one is named after a Hemingway work, and all are priced at HK$90 +10% service charge, a veritable bargain in this era of wallet-crushing drinks.
Down a small set of stairs, The Old Man is hidden away in an unremarkable-looking lane just off Aberdeen Street, its location marked only by a square sign and an overhead lamp. Once you step through the door, however, it’s anything but unremarkable. Intimately sized at 1,000 square feet, The Old Man feels more like a stylish home than a cocktail bar. The first thing you’ll notice is the I-shaped bar, behind which hangs the visual centrepiece of the entire space: a custom-built art installation depicting Hemingway’s likeness. The adjacent walls contain square cutouts that display various bottles of booze as well as books, a visual reminder of the bar’s literary leanings.
Behind the bar is where the drinks are made, naturally, but there are stools placed around the other three sides, allowing guests to sit and observe experimental mixology in action. Here, they’ll also be able to enjoy one of The Old Man’s signature design features: the bar’s built-in cooling strip, which keeps drinks placed on top of it cold.
The secondary space is more of a lounge area, with circular marble tables and tropical-print stools facing a plush, dark-green banquette. In the corner, two armchairs sit surrounded by retro-inspired wallpaper, framed photos of men holding cigars, and a pineapple lamp — nods to the Cuban setting of The Old Man. Green, pink, marble, and brass are the key design components here, and they combine to form one of the most inviting drinking dens we’ve ever seen in Hong Kong.
Aside from the Hemingway novel, The Old Man also references the three “old men” who have banded together to realise their long-gestating dreams of opening their own bar. The head mixologist is the ever-brilliant Agung Prabowo, whose previous work includes leading Island Shangri-La’s Lobster Bar & Grill to international acclaim before overseeing the bar program at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. Leading the day-to-day operations are partners James Tamang and Roman Ghale. Tamang’s career includes serving as bar manager at The Mira Hong Kong and being lauded as one of the Top 25 Bartenders of Hong Kong & Macau by Drinks World Asia in 2014. Ghale, meanwhile, wrapped up a long run at The Upper House earlier this year, where he had worked since joining the opening team in 2009, ending his tenure as the senior operations manager for the hotel’s restaurant and bar.
With these three industry veterans at the helm, we have sky-high expectations for their future. Based on what we’ve seen so far, though, we’re looking forward to adding The Old Man to our regular rotation of cocktail bars.
The Old Man, Lower G/F, 37 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2703 1899