As the sun sets on yet another year, it’s about that time when we take stock of the best new bars which we visited in 2019. Let’s not mince words: over the last half-year, life in the +852 has been pretty challenging (to say the least), and while the drinks industry hasn’t escaped wider socio-economic tensions unscathed, world-class watering holes — beacons of respite, comfort, and good cheer in these trying times — continue to emerge all over the SAR. Indeed, in that respect, 2019 has actually been a pretty impressive year: from hole-in-the-wall sake counters to lavish bars ripe for special occasions, these are 8 openings which left a lasting impression — on our hearts, minds, and livers. View the full list below.
When Juan Martínez Gregorio (the mind behind Ping Pong 129) decided to open Dai Bing — his clandestine little Bonham Strand bolthole, specialising in ‘big ice’ beverages — the project raised its fair share of eyebrows. Nine months on and the initial knee jerk detractions have transformed into points of pride. The incongruous location, hyper-specific menu, and relaxed alt vibe all work in Dai Bing’s favour, offering bar goers a refreshing experience: one which places ice — that most essential and mistreated of cocktail ingredients — at its literal and figurative centre.
Dai Bing, 52 Bonham Strand West, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, +852 9838 4438
When one envisions the ideal watering hole — for us, that’s a casual space where you can kick back and feel like home, where they serve crushable drinks and whip up actually delicious bar bites you never seem to tire of, and all at easy to swallow prices — Shady Acres is what ticks every box. Bar scene veterans Ryan Nightingale and Mike Watt named their indie wine bar after Nightingale’s college band, referencing a fictional place appearing in cult movies over the years. As such, stepping into Shady’s feels like always being in on an inside joke.
For its accessible wine and cocktail list that’s satisfying to the casual and finicky drinker alike, plus two raucous happy hours to help you slip into that Friday night mood all week, it’s no wonder we keep going back. We’re not alone, either — on most weeknights and especially towards the end of the week, Shady Acres continually becomes the proverbial oasis of SoHo, turning Peel Street into a block party of punters spilling onto the street for a slice of its friendly conviviality.
Shady Acres, G/F, 46 Peel Street, Central, Hong Kong
With Zuma-alum Arkadiusz Rybak’s way of creating inventive twists on classic cocktails, a fantastic live jazz programme thanks to house band On Point, and luscious, artful interiors by Tony Chi Studio, DarkSide managed to turn what some of Hong Kong’s biggest upturned noses would call Kowloon side (its namesake) into a spectacular drinking destination — one that’s now on the bucket lists of even the staunchest Kowloon naysayers. For that, we applaud the efforts of Rosewood Hong Kong. The solid drinks programme here focuses on rare dark spirits paired with dark chocolates and lavish bar snacks, and a towering Georgetti cigar humidor available for keen partakers make it a hotel bar with plenty of personality — and a place that makes you feel like a million bucks.
DarkSide, Rosewood Hong Kong, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 3891 8732
Helmed by Hong Kong’s resident ‘Sake Samurai’ and the brains and purveyor behind Yardbird’s drinks programme Elliot Faber, Saketen extends the retail and sake-pairing experience from sister establishment Sake Central to a new cosy drinking den at SoHo development H Code. Serving tipples from a curation of 10 sake makers at a time (expected to change year on year), Saketen is a stylish spot that endeavours to share the distinctions between centuries-old breweries and newer names, making the idiosyncrasies of Japanese rice wine accessible to all. Hunker down for an after-work highball paired with fancy rice cracker canapés, discover new sakes to sip and, like in the sake-ten liquor bodegas in Japan, head home with a few new favourites tucked under your arm.
Saketen, G/F, Shop 4, Lower Block, H Code, 45 Pottinger Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 6704 2570
St. Regis Bar
More than 100 years after its inception, the formula for a kickass hotel bar remains essentially unchanged. Timeless recipes, a well-stocked backbar, an air of tangible elegance — these are the particulars by which legendary institutions uphold their reputation. Fortunately The St. Regis Bar (tucked away in the highly anticipated Marriott Group property of the same name) delivers in all of those respects, laying the groundwork for a hotspot that’s sure to build a critical following. Tourists come to gawk at the heritage-laced fitout — interweaving memories of bygone Hong Kong with sleek, modernist trappings — but it’s Head Mixologist Andrea Minarelli’s pitch perfect classic cocktails that serve as the incentive for many future visits. Fair warning: even the Bloody Maries are ‘spirit forward’.
The St. Regis Bar, 1 Harbour Drive, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 2138 6888
The Sea by The Old Man
Often unfairly maligned as ‘that other bar to go to when you can’t get a table at The Old Man’, The Sea is so much more than a rote franchising of its award-winning predecessor. Point of fact: it’s much better to think of it as ‘chapter two’ of The Old Man saga, adding colour and contrast to the mixological universe being birthed by messrs Agung Prabowo, James Tamang, and Roman Ghale. Inside, interiors draw an unambiguous parallel with Ernest Hemingway’s beloved fishing vessel Pilar, whereas the menu — a straightforward list of 10 numbered cocktails — is deliciously succinct. (All of them follow a similar format, consisting of three or four ‘coddled’ ingredients, calibrated for interesting combinations of flavour.)
The Sea by The Old Man, 2 Po Yan Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, +852 2307 0030
Tucked in an alleyway behind H Code, Tell Camellia is practically a speakeasy by nature of its clandestine location. But its passion for blending tea and spirits is no secret: with Gagan Gurung and Sandip Hathiramani behind the bar, the duo have opened up a universe of possibilities with their globetrotting experimentation on ‘teatails’, spanning tea leaves and flavour profiles from the east and west.
The drinks here continually push boundaries — and sometimes indeed even the laws of physics. One of its bestselling cocktails, the Japan (HK$95), is a levitating feat that rounds out the intense verdant flavour of matcha with the lactic nuttiness of pumpkin seed and natto beans — topped with an umami blast of plankton and seaweed sprinkled on top. If you love to explore flavour and enjoy seeing new ways that bartenders are able to manipulate simple ingredients into creative new concoctions, you’ll want to pay this bar a visit.
Tell Camellia, LG/Floor, H Code, 45 Pottinger Street/48 Cochrane Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 9821 5501
This year, the ‘relaxed wine bar’ concept mounted a welcome (if somewhat overdue) comeback, with not one but two new frontrunners of the genre opening in Central. Of the two which made our shortlist, ThinkWine could probably be described as the more ‘conventional’ option: think pâté, charcuterie, and a staggering number of French references. Where ThinkWine really dusts the competition is on presentation: the bar’s airy, terraced layout; down-to-earth service; and genuinely exciting list of global winemakers make this a democratic option when entertaining drinkers with varying tastes. Who doesn’t love a little champagne diplomacy?
ThinkWine, 2/F, LL Tower, 2-4 Shelley Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2886 3121