Edited by Shannon Chapman
On the second day I went to another shisha bar with Phil in the SOHO district, but not before this we spent the afternoon wondering around Mong Kok, taking in the sights of the famed street food stalls, and eating some good ramen. Heads up: for most of these places you’ll want to bring cash, especially for all the ‘meat on a stick’ establishments. Then heading back to SOHO/Central, we met up with a few more locals to check out Awtar Shisha Bar. This bar is a stark contrast to Sun Ka La, and not only in location, but also in appearance. Atwar is wedged into the heart of SOHO, the interior is dark, a little closed off, and boasts a few couches giving the bar a lounge vibe. Out in the west we might describe this space as a hole in the wall, due to the fact the space feels a little narrow, but in Hong Kong it’s rather spacious.
Awtar has a decent cocktail list, and some food, but mostly patrons just come for the shisha. In the humidity, customers most often just order glasses of water. I myself preferred a Hendricks-focused cocktail.
Ingredients: Hendricks gin, basil, thyme-infused simple syrup, and lime.
Cost: 132 HKD = 21 CAD
While sipping on this cocktail, which was pretty good (fresh, citrus-foward, and herbaceous), we got to talking about the local bar scene. One of Phil’s friends Jon, who is a frequent drinker, rattled off a long list of about 20 bars. Most of these are craft cocktail places, and many specialize in gin. I figure this is due to the British influence on the bar scene. For those who don’t know, Hong Kong used to be a British colony. This along with the warmer climate makes the country perfectly suitable for gin drinkers, as gin and tonic a classic and refreshing summer libation. Toronto in contrast is more of a whisky city, and maybe that has something to do with the weather. I find whisky to be more suitable in freezing climates, as it does a good job of warming you up. If anyone knows of a gin cocktail bar in Toronto, please let me know.
Something else we contemplated was the idea of me moving to a Hong Kong for work. So I made a Pro/Con List.
- Opportunity to learn new/sharpen my skills
- Cheap food (and delicious!)
- Opportunities to move up
- Foreigner friendly (I’m Canadian)
- Don’t need to speak Cantonese
- Great public transit
- Cheap cell phones
- High rent cost
- Hot weather (I’m Canadian)
- Dense population
- Only a temporary move
- Giant cockroaches
- Disease-carrying mosquitos*
- Don’t speak Cantonese
* When I got off the plane in the airport, I was handed an English pamphlet on local mosquitoes being carriers of Dengue Fever.
Now of course, since my return to harsh Canadian temperatures I’ve longed to get myself back to Honk Kong. The decision to work abroad is still a possibility, but that’s to worry about later. Suffice it to say, there are many, many drinking establishments I didn’t get to see. So this is the short-list of places that will enjoy my patronage upon my return:
001 is a well-known speakeasy-style bar wedged behind a market stall. Apparently you’d walk right by it if you didn’t know it was there. It’s an unmarked black door, with a doorbell. This place features bar snacks, high-quality classic cocktails, and a classy atmosphere. Since the word got out on this place it’s often at capacity on weekends. I’d advise anyone to get there early in the night on the weekend.
Drinks: Classic/prohibition cocktails
Better known as Ori-Gin, this gin-focused bar has all the best labels. The head mixologist, Antonio Lai, heads up the cocktail program. Lai brings unique techniques to the table like a rotary evaporator for redistilling, vacuum, and a water bath. According to their website, Origin boasts fifteen of their own house made gin infusions. This includes lemongrass and lime, earl grey and lemon, guava, and jujube. If you’re looking for a good gin and tonic this is the place for you. Fresh fruit and herbs, and quality tonic water like Fever Tree.
Drinks: Gin and Gin Cocktails
Dr. Ferns Gin Palour
Dr. Ferns is a gin bar that focuses on the custom drink experience with over 250 different gins on the shelf. Dr. Fern prescribes drinks to relieve ‘stress-related ailments,’ utilizing fresh local herbs and botanicals. This establishment sticks closely to the doctor theme with a hidden door marked ‘Consulting Room,’ staff wear white coats, and upon arrival guests are asked if they have an appointment. Dr. Ferns can do classic cocktails, martinis, G&Ts, and cocktails of their invention. This is a great opportunity to seek out rare gins you won’t get at home.
Drinks: Everything Gin
Foxglove – Inspired by Frank Minza
Right out of a Kingsman movie Foxglove is a speakeasy-style bar hidden behind an umbrella store. Think of old-style 1950s with décor and design similar to the Orient Express, a cruise ship, and an airplane turbine. According to an article by Dezeen, this is an incredibly huge space with a VIP Room, and a VVIP Room. This place is well known for their bar, but boasts a full dinning room that provides lunch and dinner service. Foxglove also has live music with a focus on swing and jazz. The cocktail program, according to their website, has spins on classic cocktails such as the Paloma, a Bramble, a couple of whisky sours, and a riff on a zombie. Of course the bar has their own cocktail inventions to show off as well.
Butler – TST
My friend’s brother, who also happens to have a great whisky collection, recommended this particular place to me. Butler is located in TST, a subway ride north of Central. Tsim Sha Tsui, aka TST, is a great hub of shopping and nightlife well known to foreigners. According to World’s Best Bars this particular establishment follows the fashion of Japanese bars. This is both in terms of the standard of service, the style of cocktails, and the food. The drink menu features classic cocktails, and this is crafted to pair with the 1940’s music playing. It’s important to come in hoping to spend a few extra dollars, as there’s a 200 HKD minimum per person.
Neighbourhood: Tsim Sha Tsui
Mizunara: The Library – Japanese Whisky
This is another spot following the Japanese tradition of bartending. Anyone who knows about the current world whisky scene will tell you there are some amazing whisky spirits coming out of Japan. These same spirits will claim to be made in the same method of some of the finest scotches (including, but not limited to ‘single malt’ distinctions on the label.) Mizunara boasts offer 700 whiskey labels, meaning you favourites from both Japan and Scotland will be on the shelves. Please bring your fancy clothes when sitting in this establishment, as it utilizes the finest Japanese glassware and hand-chiseled ice spheres.
Neighbourhood: Wan Chai
Drinks: Scotch and Scotch cocktails
The Iron Fairies
The Iron Fairies, according to my research, has more of a specific theme to it. It’s known for their décor, featuring butterflies hanging from the ceiling, and booths with large iron doors, along with exposed brick and leather. This is the third bar opened in Hong Kong designed by Ashley Sutton, also known for J. Boroski and Ophelia. According to an article by Lifestyle Asia, the bar is an ode to Ashley’s trilogy of children’s books by the same name – The Iron Fairies. This place has approachable comfort food, like burgers and fries, and cocktails. Definitely a high recommendation for anyone who’s a fan of medieval fantasy.
This bar/restaurant concept is a bit of a time capsule to 1900s London. According a Time Out article, the entrance to this establishment is hidden (not unusual for a Hong Kong bar). This includes walking through a dark alley (also not unusual for the SOHO area), winding stairs, and an unmarked door. The interior boasts leather furniture, lacquered tables, and bookshelves indicative of this time period. When looking into what kind of atmosphere you’ll experience upon arrival the best indication is the House Rules listed on the bar’s website. The first of these rules include, “vagabond behavior deeply frowned upon during early hours.”
Drinks: Mixology/classic cocktails
This pub is most commonly referred to as 65 Peel, and this is actually the street address. The proper name is Ho Lun Jeng Gastro Pub. According to a Time Out article the name of this bar phonetically translates into ‘so fucking good.’ This is the craft beer spot for both the regular beer snob and the Cicerone certified. The beer list boasts mostly local brews, and this is indicative of the growing craft beer scene in Hong Kong. The food here is described as bar snacks that appeal to western and local flavours, including lots of fried options. So of course this place screams late night shenanigans with your group of friends.
Dinks: Craft beer