The speakeasy (or hidden bar) concept has blown up in Hong Kong over the past couple of years, meeting our growing desire to enjoy our cocktails with a dash of mystery and a twist of adventure. So we thought it was about time we ventured down the alleyways, behind thick curtains, and down spiral staircases to find you the very best our city has to offer. Finding these hidden gems is an adventure in itself, so next time you hit the town, why not take on the challenge and get in on the secret?
The Wise King
Nestled away in an alleyway off Staunton Street, behind a discreet door beside a mural of stoic, medieval kings, lies The Wise King, an independent Spanish themed cocktail bar which takes the name of the 13th century king, Alfonso X of Castile. Here, you will stumble upon a small yet opulent interior, where soft, golden lighting illuminates decadent wallpaper scattered with golden crowns and giant letter W’s to remind you that you are in the presence of royalty. As legend goes, The Wise King issued a decree that no alcoholic beverage should be served without food, so within this old-world lounge, you will find a menu of delicious tapas – such as Patata Bravas and Spanish Charcuterie and Cheese selections – to enjoy alongside exquisitely made cocktails.
Among the marvellous mixes are the deliciously sharp El Sabio ($108), which carries fruity hints with a spiced peach and pineapple wine reduction and Cava, and The Monti-Tipple ($108), which features Xeco Amontillado sherry, Gin Mare, Café Vermouth, and aromatic choco bitters. Those seeking pure indulgence will no doubt savour the dessert-like Turrón Sour ($118), with Woodford bourbon, toasted nuts honey syrup, citrus, and thick foam, accompanied by a chunk of nougat with toasted almond on a golden pineapple pick. The King also offers a selection of non-alcoholic mixes such as the Quencher ($88) and the Pickled Beets ($88), as well as selections of wines, sparkling wine, and champagnes.
Of course, no court is complete without music, and thankfully, Alfonso X had great taste. As you sit back in your royal red chair and lap up the laid-back vibes, you are treated to jazzy covers of mainstream hits by the talented Postmodern Jukebox. Perfect for those who crave a getaway from the bustling streets of modern-day Hong Kong and a good old chinwag with friends.
The Wise King, 25 Staunton Street, Basement, Soho, Tsung Wing Lane, Central, (+852) 2326 5822
A speakeasy within a speakeasy – whatever next? Concealed behind a red velvet curtain and fake elevator control panel in hidden retro jazz bar Foxglove (further down on our list) is Hong Kong’s newest cocktail den, Frank’s Library. Push the right button (we won’t tell you which one because that’s half the fun!) and lo and behold, the door will open to a secret alcove filled with novels, trinkets, and cocktails inspired by the globe-trotting adventures of this mystery Frank. So who is he, you ask?
Well, Frank Minza was a fictitious English gentleman who loved to travel and was pretty unlucky in love – it turns out he failed to capture the heart of his beloved, and so created a place named after her favourite flower – foxglove – to win her over. Little did we know he harboured another secret within his retro bar – ooh, we lot a bit of storytelling with our cocktails!
Seating only 20 people, this swanky insiders-only den boasts a collection of six ‘Travel Diary Cocktails’, each made using the freshest ingredients and premium spirits by acclaimed mixologist Derek Tsui (Drinks World Asia’s list of Top 25 Bartenders in Hong Kong in both 2016 and 2017). Each potent in flavour and exquisite in design, the collection includes the Mad Tea-Party ($100), a combination of Johnnie Walker Black Label, fresh apple juice, cold brew earl grey tea, and caramel syrup. Breaking all the boundaries of convention is The Savoy Truffle ($100), which blends oolong house-infused gin and honey water with a cream cheese foam (yes, cream cheese), while the Iryūjon or “Illusion” in Japanese ($150) completely steals the show, presenting a unique concoction of Four Fox Saké, St. Germain, ginger syrup, yuzu juice, Angostura bitters, and egg white within a delicate bird-shaped glass garnished with an edible flower. Delightful! Thankfully, Frank’s Library takes advanced reservations and walk-ins, so you won’t have to wait forever to check it out – that’s if you can find it!
Frank’s Library, Foxglove, 18 Ice House Street, 6 Duddell Street, Central
Hailing From New York
PDT (Please Don’t Tell)
Oops, we told! If you’re looking to sip on exquisite cocktails and sink your teeth into top-notch hot dogs, then dial ‘1’ in the secret phone booth located on the mezzanine above MO Bar, and let yourself in on this stylish little secret. Returning to the Landmark Mandarin Oriental two years after appearing as a pop-up bar, the iconic New York joint is now here to stay. Staying true to its roots in the Big Apple, the walls are decorated with taxidermied animals playfully donning funky accessories, herringbone patterned wood ceiling panels, and a copper bar top. Here you can enjoy a menu of 15 cocktails including a mix of PDT classics and new creations crafted especially for Hong Kong.
Among the stars of the show, which are equally adventurous in name and flavour, are the Bad Hunter ($158), made up of Chivas blended Scotch whisky, Fernet Hunter, lemon juice, dragon eye and Moët Brut Imperial Champagne, and the Milky Tea Punch, composed of Ron Zacapa Centenario rum, Hennessy V.S.O.P. cognac, Rickshaw tea, condensed milk, Tayouran egg, and Angostura bitters. Gin lovers will no doubt enjoy the Safari, which gives the classic G&T a Japanese twist by blending shiso and kabosu citrus, while bourbon fans can sink into one of PDT’s most famous creations, the Benton Old Fashioned ($158), which puts a spin on the classic by substituting maple syrup for sugar and using bacon-infused Wild Turkey bourbon.
Wash this down with some gourmet comfort food prepared by Richard Ekkebus of Michelin-starred Amber, and you’re in for one delicious evening. New creations include the Honkie Dog fried pork dog with sakura shrimp and XO mayo, and the not-to-be-missed Takoyaki Tots ($98), a bowl of okonomiyaki style tatter tots topped with kewpie mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce, shredded nori, bonito shavings, and scallions. Yum! Seating only 25 people at a time, PDT has certainly nailed the cosy speakeasy vibe, but as with all hyped new bars, only accepts reservations one week in advance (for parties of up to six), so call now and get in on the action.
PDT (Please Don’t Tell), The Landmark, 15 Queen’s Road Central
Slap bang in the middle of bustling Lan Kwai Fong is Employees Only, New York’s favourite speakeasy and home to the knock-your-socks-off Gimlet, made with navy strength gin and house-made lime cordial with agave and kaffir lime leaves. Aside from this fabulous signature cocktail, which is served by bartenders who free-pour at speed with utter precision, this hidden bar offers a great atmosphere, tasty late night bites, and a kick-ass playlist, which belts out everything from mellow lounge beats to classic rock as the night goes on. You might even be lucky (or unlucky) enough to catch the mysterious fortune teller tucked away behind a velvet curtain in his lair.
Employees Only, 19 Lan Kwai Fong, Central
Based on Fictional Characters
Dr Fern’s Gin Parlour
Feeling a little under the weather? Maybe Doctor Fern can help you out. Dodge the countless bags of unnecessary pills your local doc will prescribe you and let this eccentric physician cure your ailments with a healthy dose of gin and tonic. After all, this doctor has dedicated his life to studying botanicals and creating his own concoctions of fresh local herbs, paired with gins from around the world, that he has handpicked for his patients. And if you find yourself overwhelmed with the 20-page drinks menu, then his trusty team of physicians (you’ll spot them in white lab coats) are only too happy to assist. As soon as you enter the “Waiting Room” in this delightfully quirky basement bar in the Landmark, you know you’re in for a real treat.
Dr. Fern’s Gin Parlour, Shop B31A, First Basement Floor, Landmark Atrium, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central
Read more! Check out the new Mad Hatter Afternoon Tea Party at Dr. Fern’s
Things aren’t always as they seem. Enter the Fox Shop umbrella boutique on Duddell Street, take a gander at the silver-handled brollies displayed in glass cabinets along the wall, and – if you press down on the right one, unveil a secret doorway into one of Hong Kong’s most impressive hidden bars. Inspired by the globe-trotting adventures of fictitious English gentleman, Mr. Minza, who (as mentioned before) could never capture the heart of his beloved, and so created a place named after her favourite flower to win her over, this cinematic venue is a real sight for sore eyes. Once inside, you are met with a glamorous interior inspired by a 1950s first-class luxury liner decked out with plush upholstery, a low ceiling, and even cabin portholes in the washrooms. Harking back to the golden age of cocktails and jazz, this spacious yet intimate lounge plays host to live music several nights a week, where you get to sip on insanely strong gin martinis and marvel at the sense of lost luxury. Take a sneaky peek at the VIP room while you’re there – it’s designed to look like a vintage first-class train carriage and is really quite fabulous.
Foxglove, G/F, 18 Ice House Street, 6 Duddell Street, Central
Opulent, lush, and totally over-the-top, Ophelia is a definite must-see if you appreciate theatrics – and well, peacocks. The first of three Hong Kong bars designed by Ashley Sutton (the others being the Iron Fairies and J.Boroski), this lavish venue is hidden behind an exotic bird shop owned by an eccentric (and fictitious) bird collector called Mr Wong, who had an obsession with peacocks – in particular one named Ophelia. It’s also inspired by the opium dens of the 19th century, and you may feel like you’re hallucinating when you pull back the thick, velvet curtain to discover an exotic, green-hued wonderland where feather-clad ‘muses’ lay suspended above the bar and giant birdcages with swings invite you to sit and pose for pictures. Although it’s not known for serving the most memorable cocktails in town, Ophelia is certainly worth checking out – if only to snap a shot of you swinging for your Instagram feed.
Ophelia, Shop 41A, 1/F The Avenue, Lee Tung Avenue, 200 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai
Not based on a fictional character as such, but rather its owner’s childhood fascination with creepy crawlies, J. Boroski is the second Ashley Sutton designed bar on our list and home to clusters of preserved scarab beetles and hairy spiders which adorn its train carriage interior. Definitely not a place for those with arachnophobia, but rather a sense of adventure, this secluded hideaway isn’t the easiest to find and lies beyond an unmarked door in a dark alleyway off Hollywood Road. (Alternatively, you can venture down the ‘secret passageway’ that connects this bar to The Iron Fairies – keep reading for that one). Once inside, you’ll get to experience a whole new level of service as the bartenders offer to create custom-crafted cocktails if you tell them your spirit and flavour preferences. This unique ‘Cocktail Concierge Service’, created by Joseph Boroski himself, is one that you are unlikely to find anywhere else in Hong Kong, so while there are five seasonal cocktails to choose from off the menu, we definitely recommend giving it a whirl – we promise you’ll feel really special!
J. Boroski, 1 Hollywood Road, Central
Feisty, fun, and totally kitsch, this secret hideaway, once owned by the “charismatic” and “exotic” burlesque dancer Mrs. Pound, is disguised as a stamp shop which (unless you’re in the know) would go totally unnoticed on Pound Lane. But push down on the correct ‘chop’ at the entrance, and a magic door will slide open to reveal a fuchsia-coloured treasure trove full of trinkets belonging to the mysterious muse. As bar legend goes, Mrs. Pound travelled the world on the arms of different suitors before disappearing from the public eye in the height of her fame in the 1950s. Rumour has it, she ran away with her wealthy lover Mr. Ming, who gave her his favourite stamp shop to hide her from his highly conservative family and keep her location a secret. Well, she certainly made the place her own, filling it with cabinets packed with oversized jewels, feathered masks, and all kinds of tacky yet wonderful knick-knacks. The woman had good taste in cocktails too, with the spicy Pound’s Mary (with tom yum infused vodka) making a particularly strong impression. There are some tasty bites on offer here too – try the Avocado Fries and Sriracha Street Corn – delish.
Mrs. Pound, 6 Pound Lane, Sheung Wan
Based on Real Characters
The Old Man
Tucked away down an alleyway off Aberdeen Street, The Old Man is the charming creation of cocktail pioneer Agung Prabowo (previously of the Island Shangri-la’s Lobster Bar and Mandarin Oriental) who was also crowned one of Asia’s Top 10 Bartenders in 2017. It’s not hard to see why when you step inside this Ernest Hemingway inspired gem and watch him whip you up an insanely delicious cocktail inspired by the author’s novels. The rosemary infused Pisco, turmeric, tamarind, and citrus Green Hills of Africa is a delight, as is the gin and Cointreau infused White Lady (not listed on the menu so ask at the bar). Shelves of books, dark wooden cabinets, and crystal decanters line the walls of this modestly-sized bar, which covers around the same amount of space as your average Hong Kong living room, and makes you feel like you’re in one too. The Old Man oozes sophistication and old-world charm, but also a level of intimacy that’s made all the more endearing by Agung’s cracking smile.
The Old Man, Lower Ground Floor, 37 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong
The Iron Fairies
Following the arrival of Ophelia and J.Boroski, designer extraordinaire Ashley Sutton unveiled his third baby, The Iron Fairies. If Neverland or Narnia were your ‘happy place’ as a kid, then this enchanted wonderland will blow you away. Ten thousand butterflies dangle overhead, little bottles of fairy dust hang from the ceiling in clusters, and candles flicker inside six large iron furnaces which invite you in to explore. Inspired by Sutton’s experience in the iron ore mines in Western Australia, and his trilogy of children’s books about a band of miners who forge iron-fairy figurines, this fantasy land is both mysterious and magical, and will make you feel like you’ve stepped into another world. During your expedition, make sure to try the impressive Smoke in a Bottle cocktail and watch in awe as it arrives at your table in a smoke-filled glass bottle and is poured over ice cubes. Magic!
The Iron Fairies, LG, Chinachem Hollywood Centre, 1-13 Hollywood Road, Central
Ping Pong 129 Gintoria
Space is an illusion. Venture through the ominous-looking red door in Sai Ying Pun and make your way down the staircase to discover a gin-infused wonderland that will make you feel like you’ve just entered Doctor Who’s Tardis. There’s really only one word to describe Ping Pong 129 – huge. The bar is huge, the drinks are huge, and so are the red lit-up neon Chinese characters that sit above the bar. They translate to the slogan “Train Your Body”, which is quite ironic really considering the only training you’ll be doing here is lifting your giant-sized glass to your lips. It is weighed down by gigantic ice cubes though, so you will need two hands. Be warned, the cocktails here aren’t cheap, but they certainly last a long time, and once inside this spacious basement, adorned with chic leather couches and rug-draped floors that scream bachelor pad, you’ll come face to face with an overwhelming variety of Spanish and international gins and a giant wall of boobs (pop art is a big feature here), and wonder why you didn’t discover it sooner.
Ping Pong 129 Gintoria, 129 Second St, Nam Cheong House, Sai Ying Pun
Tequila, it makes me happy. Find the giant barrel entrance on Wing Wah Lane and venture into the Mexican underworld in this incredible basement bar in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong. With bronze skulls lining the walls, glow-in-the-dark graffiti everywhere you look, and a neon sign displaying the words “Tequila makes my clothes come off”, you know you’re in for a good time. This chic bodega is all about tequila, with knock-your-socks-off cocktails whipped up by leading LA bartender, Robert Kariakin. Ask for a Slow Burn and you may never come out alive. This sexy underground hideaway is the perfect place to enjoy an evening with friends, knocking back kickass cocktails and lapping up some funky DJ beats. Keep your eye out for the stunning portrait of Frida Kahlo like you’ve never seen her before (think sugar skull makeover) and if you’re feeling peckish, make sure to try their table-side guacamole served with pomegranate seeds for a sour kick. Pure Mexican magic!
Los Sotano, 21 D’Aguilar Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Central
Imagine Moulin Rouge with a splash of neon, and you’re pretty much picturing Le Boudoir. Enter the inconspicuous entrance on Wyndham Street and make your way down the dark, winding staircase to discover an underground world of Parisian glamour with a cheeky twist. Thanks to playful street artist Szabotage, this formerly frivolous lair has undergone an edgy makeover, with vandalised old paintings, splattered neon paint, and naughty words scattered across the walls. The eclectic mix of furniture, chandeliers, feathered masks, and vintage knick-knacks come together to create a touch of “je ne sais quoi”, which makes you feel like you’re a million miles away from Asia — and the 21st century! While you’re there, make sure to try the new range of handcrafted Absolut Elyx presented in stunning copper owl drinking vessels — definitely one for the gram! #OwlNightLong
Le Boudoir, Basement, 65 Wyndham Street, Central
Read more! Check out our interview with Szabotage
Hidden behind a thick velvet curtain, with absolutely no signage above, this French inspired gem on Staunton Street is often packed to the brim and bursting with a quirky, energetic vibe. Knock on the door and one of the two sisters who run the place will take your Hong Kong ID card and (if you smile at them nicely) let you in. Once inside, feisty bartender Stella will whip you up the best strawberry and banana daiquiris you will find in Hong Kong, served in cocoa rimmed glasses that you will literally need two hands to hold. Be warned though, you”ll get yelled at if you’re too loud – and maybe even kicked out. Remember, they have your ID card … they know who you are!
Feather Boa, G/F, 38 Staunton Street, Soho, Central
Forgotten Hong Kong
A cheeky nod to Hong Kong’s cultural past, this unmarked Kennedy Town gem is filled with references to the city’s traditions, such as birdcages, historical photographs, and an impressive collection of weird and wonderful trinkets. There’s also a costume dress-up closet for you to create the ultimate selfie, as well as two hidden swings that can be enjoyed if you ask the bar staff nicely. Make sure to check out the Missy Ho’s Fizz cocktail (a twist of whiskey sour with a dash of Absinthe and fizz of soda) as well as the “funky fusion cuisine”, which includes things like Spicy Salmon Rolls, Teriyaki, and a delicious Pecan Caramel Chocolate Pudding. Yum!
Missy Ho’s, G/F, Sincere Western House, 48 Forbes Street, Kennedy Town
Tai Lung Fung
One of our favourite hidden bars in Hong Kong – ode to its shabby chic appearance and old-school Hong Kong vibe – is Tai Lung Fung. Old photos and memorabilia from the 1960s make up the fun interior of this quirky bar, which pays homage to the city’s cultural past, and is often packed with punters overflowing on to the street. Here you can find home-brewed alcoholic drinks and a huge menu of cocktails at just $45 a pop during happy hour (from noon until 9pm), plus some tasty street food to boot. Playful, low-key, and full of personality, this charming hidden gem earns a well-deserved spot on our list.
Tai Lung Fung, 5-9 Hing Wan St, Wan Chai
Tucked away down a dark, narrow alleyway, marked only by a few flickering candles on the ground, lies a staircase leading up to a dark and broody land filled with hard liquor and dreamy cocktails. This seductively hidden bar oozes a sophisticated colonial vibe with rich vintage furniture, antique knick-knacks, and the occasional mounted stag head working together to create a country manor house feel, made all the more dramatic by the ultra-dim lighting – be careful where you step. Aside from boasting an impressive collection of taxidermy and human skulls (yep, you read that right), Stockton homes a secret cigar room which only requires a minimum spend of $150 to enter. But don’t be put off if you’re not a hardcore liquor lover, as there are some beautifully crafted cocktails on offer here – namely the new Minds Undone Series, which invites you to “bask in the wonderful craziness” of literature’s greatest treasures. The P. Scott Fitzgerald inspired Tender Addict is sensational in both flavour and presentation. There’s a reason this place is 8th on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list for 2017.
Stockton, 32 Wyndham Street, Central
Fu Lu Shou
This funky little Hollywood Road hideout has certainly earned a reputation that lives up to its motto, ‘Eat, drink, and be prosperous’. The need-to-know door code, which changes frequently, adds an air of intimacy to this well-hidden spot which is decorated with colourful retro furniture and old-school Chinese street art that pays tribute to Hong Kong’s past. The outdoor roof terrace is effortlessly cool and cosy, providing the perfect spot to enjoy some creatively named cocktails and western-style China Town dishes – Sesame Prawn Toast and a Suzie Wong Does Hong Kong anyone? It may sound pretty hipster – and it is, but we still love it. So call ahead, get those magic digits, and let yourself in on this quirky little secret.
Fu Lu Shou, 7/F, 31 Hollywood Road, Central
Read more! Discover more amazing rooftop bars in Hong Kong
On the “Dark Side”
Scarlett Café & Wine Bar
Not a speakeasy as such, but certainly off the beaten track, is Scarlett Café & Wine Bar, a cosy venue tucked away on Austin Avenue in Tsim Sha Tsui. Spread over two floors, and open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this modern venue has a chic French bistro vibe, with blackboard menus, metal and wooden decor, and an open kitchen serving up a range of tasty tapas, dreamy cheese boards, and great value French wines. Not only home to one of our favourite happy hour deals, where you get to enjoy 50% off drinks every day of the week, it also hosts monthly wine masterclasses and live music events. With a restaurant upstairs, and casual bar opening onto the street downstairs, this hidden gem on the “dark side” is perfect for date night too!
Scarlett Café & Wine Bar, 2 Austin Ave Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
Size isn’t everything, and while classic American style bar Butler may be small, it’s certainly not lacking in personality. Seating only ten guests along the counter and twelve spread across two tables, this Japanese run watering hole is the ideal spot to enjoy a quiet drink in an intimate setting. No wonder then that it’s the bar of choice for many Japanese businessmen in Hong Kong who admire the bartenders’ ability to showcase the precision of Japanese cocktail-making techniques and whip them up whatever bespoke creations they desire. That, and the fact that they’re dressed up in Casablanca-style white dinner jackets – smooth. Be sure to come early to grab one of the few seats available, and if whiskey is your spirit of choice, make sure to check out the whiskey bar upstairs – with over 200 different types on offer, you definitely won’t be disappointed.
Butler, 5/F, Mody House, 30 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon