Hidden away in a discreet location off Hollywood Road, a dark and handsome den is now serving arguably the finest cocktails in all of Hong Kong. The address is a secret and guests are granted access on an invitation-only basis, but if you can make it past those minor hurdles to gain entry, you’ll be treated to an experience quite unlike any other you’ve had in the city. To be clear, there’s no shortage of respectable mixology on display around town these days, but here in this windowless lair, the ambiance, the decor, and the approach to cocktail making have all combined to produce one of the most unique and enchanting spots in the SAR. The name of this mysterious space is J.Boroski.
Here, in no particular order, are some things you should know about J.Boroski: it’s not a speakeasy — don’t call it that, please; it accommodates up to 60 people and that’s it — no standing room; there’s no menu, blackboard or tabletop placards telling you what to order; even if you know the address, you won’t necessarily be able to find the entrance; you shouldn’t try getting in without an invitation; this is not the place to show up unannounced with 15 of your best friends; this is not your new wild and crazy party spot; in the washrooms, you’ll hear audio tracks that will educate you about alcohol and cocktails; it’s being billed as a ‘creative cocktail space’ but that doesn’t mean it’s not a bar; you’ll want to get in here before everyone else finds out about it.
Despite the sense of novelty Hongkongers might feel at J.Boroski, it’s actually not a new concept, but rather a close facsimile of a Bangkok bar that goes by the same name. That name comes from owner/master bartender Joseph Boroski himself, a leading figure in the cocktail industry who coined the term ‘mixsultant’ for himself — a combination of mixologist and consultant. Having opened The Joseph Boroski Bar & Hospitality School in Bangkok’s Thonglor neighborhood in 2012, the first J.Boroski was originally intended to be a practice space for mixology students, but eventually it got so popular that it became a full-fledged bar, one with a very loyal and passionate clientele.
The Hong Kong outpost, in its clandestine Central location, opened earlier this month and shares much of the same DNA with its Bangkok sister. The interior design, which you’ll openly gawk at before you’ve even had a moment to think about your first drink, was overseen by none other than man-of-the-moment Ashley Sutton, who brought Wan Chai hot spot Ophelia to life earlier this year. At J.Boroski, he’s outfitted the space with leather, steel, copper, imported teak, and very good, very dim lighting. Boroski and Sutton’s collaborative history goes back many years, but here they have partnered with local restaurant group Dining Concepts.
Conjuring a tunnel or a train car, the long, narrow space houses a gleaming bar that runs along the entire length of one wall, and over it sits the space’s most eye-catching feature: a curving latticework of leather panels adorned with preserved beetles. (The insects, as well as clear glass vessels containing infused spirits that look like they belong in a lab, are both design nods to Boroski’s longtime fascination with science and entomology. All of this unfolds before your eyes to a soundtrack of, perhaps unexpectedly, guitar-heavy rock ‘n’ roll from the early to mid-1970s. A seat at the bar is arguably the best in the house, as it affords you a front-row view of the cocktail making: the stirring, the pouring, the fetching of ingredients from myriad containers, the cutting of large blocks of ice before your very eyes. Each bartender’s workstation comes with a bright spotlight that serves both to illuminate the drinks and, cleverly enough, give patrons the perfect stage for their Instagram shots.
That we’ve made it this far without properly discussing the cocktails is a testament to the special look and feel of J.Boroski: it’s sexy, surprising, intimate, welcoming, private, and, for lack of a better turn of phrase, very, very cool.
But properly discuss the cocktails we must, as they’re the main reason to visit in the first place. Again, there is no menu, and it’s wonderfully liberating to be freed from the constraints of ordering something from a list whose options are either partially or wholly unappealing to your sensibilities. (If you’re concerned about price, there is a list of spirits you can peruse and choose from.) At J.Boroski, the staff offer you ‘cocktail concierge service’. What does that mean, you may wonder. The answer is bespoke cocktails that are customised to suit your personal tastes and the directions you give. There’s no end to the variety of information you might share, but you can be as restrained (‘I’d like a drink made with gin’.) or as overbearing (‘I want a spirit-forward, whisky-based cocktail that’s shaken rather than stirred and doesn’t taste anything like an Old Fashioned and don’t you dare use bourbon’.) as you like. Either way, the staff are trained to concoct something that will surprise and delight you.
In my case, I offered up the following guidance: ‘I’d like something made with Campari, not too sweet, preferably herbal.’ After introducing me to a gin I’d never heard of, my willing bartender asked just a couple of clarifying questions and then got to work. At the bottom of a mixing glass he gently muddled hibiscus with some fresh rosemary, apparently intuiting my love for this particular herb. Before he proceeded, he let me smell the glass; ‘That’s what I want my whole life to smell like’, was my honest, immediate reply. He then added the gin and some vermouth, fashioning a riff on a Negroni, my go-to tipple, though I had not informed him of that fact. After stirring it and pouring into a tumbler with a large chunk of ice, he went about setting a sprig of rosemary on top of the drink and then torching some of its leaves. The aroma was intoxicating, as was the drink, and the entire experience was entrancing.
All of which is to say that if you’re the type of person who doesn’t care very much about what’s in your glass or has no interest in the educational and interactive aspects of this experience, then J.Boroski very well might not be the place for you. If you’re on the fence, give it a try, as you might find yourself addicted to it. And for those of us who are self-proclaimed cocktail aficionados or, perhaps more accurately, cocktail nerds, this is the most exciting thing to happen in Hong Kong in a very long while, and also a place to truly feel at home.