Rents are ungodly high in Hong Kong, a jam-packed city practically gasping for extra space. The skyline, eternally draped in bamboo scaffolding, continues to reach ever upward, while each year land reclamation projects inch the coastline farther and farther into Victoria Harbor. One can understand, then, the quandary posed to bar owners the city over. How does one turn a profit when commercial spaces are so cramped and the rent so obscene?
For many, the solution has been to go smaller, not bigger. The lingering speakeasy trend, popularized a decade ago in New York City by bars like Pegu Club and Employees Only, has taken on new life in Hong Kong, where it plays to the strengths of low-ceilinged, claustrophobic watering holes. Sure, Prohibition never actually made it to Hong Kong. But that matters little to the throngs of Hong Kongers clamoring to sip gimlets shoulder to shoulder in atmospheric, design-forward spaces as they nod along to jazz quartets.
Tickled by the thought of discovering creative cocktails in clandestine bars hidden down narrow alleyways or secreted behind false doors? Read on for eight of Hong Kong’s most enticing speakeasies.
Opened in hipster hood Sheung Wan in 2014, cocktail den Mrs. Pound is concealed behind a facade bearing the name “Mr. Ming’s Stamp Shop.” Spoiler alert: It’s not a stamp shop. Flip the secret switch (shhh, it’s hidden within the façade’s showcase of stamps) and a door slides open to reveal a narrow jewel box of a lounge draped in hues of electric pink and seafoam green. Order the Bohemian Sour, an earthy delight of green tea–infused whisky, sweet yellow Chartreuse, egg white, lemon juice, and honey. If you’re hungry, nibble on quirky bites like rendang poutine, an Indonesian-Canadian hybrid that marries French fries with mozzarella and spiced beef rendang. 6 Pound Ln., Hong Kong; 852-3426-3949; mrs.pound.com
From the outside, this ritzy jazz bar, opened late last year by the Mrs. Pound team in the bustling Central business district, looks like the fanciest old-school umbrella shop you’ve ever seen. But find the correct umbrella handle (hint: it’s shaped like a fox’s head), push down, and you’re transported to a luxe lounge kitted out in rich blue leather and white paneled ceilings. The decor, a nod to 1950s-era air travel and vintage cars, is matched in cool factor by the libations, which include the Mizuwari, a booze-forward blend of Hibiki 12 Years whisky, plum wine, chocolate bitters, and a dash of tart plum soda, and the Bitter Truth, a heady drink of spiced rum, Angostura bitters, homemade orange cordial, and a dash of absinthe. Definitely stay late for the tunes — there’s live jazz most nights. 6 Duddell St., Hong Kong; 852-2116-8949; foxglovehk.com
Ping Pong Gintonería
Tucked inside a former table-tennis palace in trendy Sai Ying Pun since 2014, this Spanish-inflected gem specializes in, you guessed it, gin and tonics. Find the nondescript red door emblazoned with Chinese characters (in English, they read “Ping Pong City”), and a set of narrow stairs leads you to a moody drinking hall with walls plastered in provocative art by emerging Hong Kong artists. There are more than a dozen different gin and tonics to choose from, including the delicate raspberry-infused gin splashed with elderflower tonic and a bold eucalyptus-spiked G&T garnished with bay leaves. 129 Second St., Hong Kong; 852-9835-5061; pingpong129.com
You’ll have to wind through a wet market in Central, find an unmarked black door, and ring a gold doorbell to gain entry to 001, one of the hardest-to-find saloons in Hong Kong. A progenitor of the Hong Kong speakeasy scene — the secret spot has been around since at least since 2011 — 001 remains one of the best thanks to an eclectic drinks menu. Among the best are the Earl Grey martini, a quirky number made with tea-infused gin and, interestingly, egg whites, and Green Park, an emerald-hued mixture of gin, basil, egg white, and celery bitters. The lounge itself is dimly lit, filled with tufted turquoise chairs, and has a vibe befitting a high-fashion photo shoot for the Chinese edition of Cosmopolitan magazine. (One really did take place here, in 2013.) For mystery’s sake, there’s no website for 001, but a useful Facebook page spills all the details. 97 Wellington St., Hong Kong; 852-2810-6969; facebook.com/001
Located down a dark alleyway and up a nondescript flight of stairs in Central, Stockton looks straight out a novel set in 1890s London, although it’s only two years old. Wood-paneled walls, tufted leather sofas, and bronze-hued velvet couches set the stage for modern cocktails like the Bajan Housewife, a rum-based concoction topped with champagne and accented with citrus, mint, Angostura bitters, and cinnamon-like canella. There’s also the Athole Brose, a rich, pink-hued combo of whisky, golden Drambuie, nutty almond liqueur, oatmeal, and double cream. 32 Wyndham St., Hong Kong; 852-2565-5268; stockton.com.hk
Fu Lu Shou
Don’t be thrown by the rickety elevator off Hollywood Road that transports you to rooftop bar Fu Lu Shou, or by the code required for entry. (Don’t worry, it’s offered up if you call ahead and posted on the Facebook page for good measure.) The unconventional menu is scattered with American-Chinese favorites — think sweet and sour pork and chicken chow mein — plus drinks like the Typhoon No. 8 (a potent combination of two types of rum, ginger beer, sweet Falernum, lime juice, and homemade ginger syrup) and the Scorpion Dragon Bowl (an enormous offering of tequila, homemade watermelon syrup, fresh ginger and lemon juices, and orange bitters that serves four to six people). The outdoor terrace offers a loungey party vibe thanks to swinging basket chairs, low sofas, and a stunning graffiti mural produced by local street artists. 31 Hollywood Rd., 7th floor, Hong Kong; 852-2336-8812; facebook.com/FuLuShouHK
Down an easy-to-miss back alley in Central, Japanese-inspired wine and whisky bar Nocturne offers up a staggering 150 different varieties of whisky (and whiskey, with an “e”) from around the world. At the stark, minimalist cement bar downstairs, tuck into the house’s signature old-fashioned, concocted with your choice of whisky, or venture upstairs to the temperature-controlled wine cellar to select a bottle from Nocturne’s staggering collection of more than 250 types of wine and champagne. 35 Peel St., Hong Kong; 852-2884-9566; nocturnehk.com
Mizunara: The Library
Nightlife area Wan Chai has a reputation for seedy bars, but the petite Japanese-inflected Mizunara: The Library is helping change that stereotype. Nestled on the fourth floor of an unassuming commercial building, the debonair, gentleman’s club–esque spot boasts comfy leather chairs and head-turning drinks like the Smokey Manhattan, a Maker’s Mark–based drink poured into a Laphroaig-rinsed glass, plus selections from its 150-strong Japanese whisky menu. Not sure what to get? Ask for advice from bartender-owner Masahiko Endo, usually found behind the bar in a striking white jacket and bow tie. 361-363 Lockhart Rd., 4th floor, Hong Kong; 852-3571-9797; mizunarathelibrary.com