It’s difficult to fathom a time when The Pontiac, Central’s favourite neighbourhood dive (No. 31 on Asia 50’s Best Bars this year) wasn’t around. Since opening in 2015, the diminutive Mid-Levels bar has attained must-visit status amongst an eclectic and devoted clientele. On any given day there, you’re likely to rub shoulders with drinks industry veterans, journalists, corporate types and good ol’ fashioned lushes. The rock’n’roll inflected dive’s unpretentious service, approachable pricing and championship of sustainability have variously solidified its reputation as a great go-to local.
Conceived by the Roopchand brothers (of Rummin’ Tings & Fratelli fame) and “First Lady of Mixology” Beckaly Franks, there’s a palpable come-as-you-are sensibility that, to this day, suffuses the bar’s gritty onyx countertops. To mark three years on Old Bailey Street, The Pontiac recently revamped its menu: showcasing eight new cocktails that tear down the roof with their strong flavours, drinkability (“11 points on the crush scale” says Franks) and cheeky monikers. The new menu is legitimately replete with some of the best mixed drinks we’ve sampled all year. Here are five to get you started.
Ingredients: Stiggin’s Fancy; Oloroso; Pear
When it comes to bartending, Franks and her team have always adopted an approach stressing empowerment and inclusivity. That progressiveness occasionally manifests itself in clever pop culture asides. That’s certainly the case for U.N.I.T.Y (HK$88), the tripartite cocktail inspired by a 1993 Queen Latifah single of the same name. A stirred drink built upon the bedrock of Stiggin’s Fancy (Trinidad plantation rum that has been enriched with macerated pineapple), its sweetness is tempered by the addition of Oloroso sherry (the latter, incidentally, acting as a kind of oxidising agent). Finished with pear, the U.N.I.T.Y makes its initial impression with clean fruit-forward flavours before gradually drying down to an unexpected but welcome palette of molasses and pineapple cake.
Ingredients: Aquavit; Soderblanding Vermouth; Celery bitters
From a thematic standpoint, At The Gates (HK$88) will strike most as a beverage of epic Wagnerian scope. Loosely inspired by Viking raiders (infamous for smashing the proverbial gates constructed by unfortunate villagers), this new Pontiac signature is, in more semantic terms, an original version of the dirty martini. Terroir — a quality more commonly associated with winemaking — figures largely in the composition; and Franks’s recipe draws on quintessential Scandi herbs of the Viking era (e.g. dill and fennel) to produce flavours with a strong vegetal quality. Savoury and just shy of dry, At The Gates is precisely the sort of moreish tipple that will have you screaming “Valhalla” within a worryingly short time frame.
Ingredients: Ancho Verde; Cachaca; Gin; Bangarang; Lime; Mint
New to The Pontiac’s third menu (from the mind of outgoing bartender Marian Lee) is The Vegan Demon (HK$88) — a tropical cocktail that supplements its spicy backbone with an arboreal presentation. The beverage’s vibrant green colour comes courtesy of poblano chillis that are also used in the distillation of Ancho Reyes. Instead of harvesting late, after significant and prolonged exposure to sunlight, these chillis are picked while still green — contributing to a flavour profile that combines freshness with a modicum of peppery spice. Offering a highly invigorating drinking experience, it’s a welcome addition to The Pontiac’s other non-seasonal signature cocktails.
Ingredients: Jamaican rum; Amaretto; Snake-like wine; Bangarang; Egg white
The Pontiac team’s affinity for local and underrated ingredients led them to the universe of snake wine. Upon discovering how this ostensibly medicinal liqueur is produced (and the dicey moral quandaries that underpin its consumption), Franks and co opted to preserve the recipe whilst finding a suitable alternative for the original component of reptile-based alcohol. Essentially a riff on the classic whisky sour, the Snake Sour (HK$88) offers tartness, textural consistency and a sweetness that will remind you of confectionary. Thankfully, this signature beverage is 100 percent snake-free but its substitute ingredient — a much-experimented with amaro — is uncannily close to the real thing.
Ingredients: Ancho Reyes; Vermouth Rosso; Aperol; Fernet Branca
My Name Is Nobody (HK$88) — named for one of Henry Fonda’s more obscure 1970s Westerns — is The Pontiac’s glorious middle finger to the mixology zeitgeist in 2018. While bartenders continue to leverage increasingly absurd space-age equipment in the creation of signature drinks (seriously, how many rotovaps do you really need?), The Pontiac’s latest chilli-forward take on the classic negroni strikes true with its punchy flavours and complex aromatic profile. There is plenty of interplay between the spiciness of Ancho Reyes, caramelised notes of vermouth and cacao-like Fernet Branca; with the combination standing out as one of our favourite twists on the Negroni in a very long time.