Like a local: Best bars in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has always had a reputation as a boozy, party city, and between its rooftop hangouts, speakeasies and late-night dives, it would be more than possible to drink around the clock. Here's what one local thinks you should be ordering.

By Lee Cobaj
Published 29 Oct 2018, 08:00 GMT, Updated 15 Jul 2021, 13:36 BST
Hong Kong at night.

Hong Kong at night.

Photograph by Getty Images

Happy & high
Hong Kong loves a happy hour and it's possible to find special offers at most venues every night of the week. Start early by zooming up to rooftop bar Cé La Vi, on the 25th floor of the California Tower, where the daily, six-hour long happy hour starts outrageously early at 3pm. 

Alternatively, you could sprawl on the summery waterfront terrace at Red Sugar with a half-price £5 cocktail (from 4pm to 7pm) — try the zingy vodka-laced spiced ice tea — and ogle the ferries and sampans gliding across the harbour. 

Back in town, park yourself on a pavement-view pew at Posto Pubblico on buzzy Elgin Street. Glug Peroni, wine, highballs and mixed spirits, and fill up on free antipasti — it's £19 for two solid hours between 5pm and 7pm, Monday to Friday. 

Make your way to nearby Bobby's Rabble, a trendy watering hole, crowd-funded into existence by a bunch of hooch-loving Hongkongers. It serves branded beers, wine and cocktails for a fiver between 5pm and 8pm every night — and there are no half measures. 

You can then enjoy another 90 minutes of cheap tipples at Time, one of Hong Kong's top gay bars, where happy hour rolls on 'til 9.30pm from Monday to Saturday.

After dark
The city's best speakeasies and cocktail bars are usually tricky to find but the rewards are worth it. Sneak into Please Don't Tell, hidden upstairs behind an old-fashioned telephone box at the back of M Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Once you're in, order a Paddington: a messy mix of dry rum, Lillet blanc, absinthe and orange marmalade. 

From there, you won't have to roll far to Dr Fern's Gin Parlour — it's a tiny, secret spot in the basement of a mall, but the quality of its ingredients means it didn't stay a secret for long. Sample over 250 varieties of gin served in a Dickensian setting by waiters in white coats. 

Less difficult to locate on Hollywood Road is The Quinary, which, despite its sleek decor and five-star staff, is completely unpretentious. The drink to go for is the Earl Grey caviar martini: a sprightly cup of vodka, elderflower, apple juice, Cointreau and citrus topped with a Santa hat of foam and sprinkled with spheres of Earl Grey caviar. Perfection. 

Gritty-pretty COA, specialising in mezcal and home-fermented mixers, is slightly off the main drinking grid on Shin Hing Street, which makes it the kind of place where you'll find locals catching up over a knock-your-socks off cocktail. 

Meanwhile, The Old Man, tucked away in a low-lit close off Aberdeen Street, is where Hong Kong's mixologists come to drink at the end of the night. If you want to bag a coveted seat at its H-shaped bar, get there before they start arriving around midnight.   

Edgar Santillan's Top 5 cocktails

Originally from Mexico, Edgar Santillan has poured drinks everywhere from California to Shoreditch before becoming chief mixologist at Eaton HK

1 // Buona Fortuna, Aqua
Aqua is a Hong Kong institution thanks to its panoramic views of Victoria Harbour. For me, this is the most exciting of its cocktails, which unexpectedly mixes Parmesan with pineapple-infused gin and tart rhubarb. 

2 // Pina Colager, Honi Honi
This Polynesian bar on Wellington Street is known for its OTT cocktails, but I go for this wittily named ice-cold beer topped with a pineapple shrub — super-simple but extremely refreshing when sipped on the bar's lush terrace.

3 // Caffeinated Negroni, COA
I always opt for one of these at this sleek hideaway. It blends gin and mezcal with coffee-infused Mancino Rosso vermouth and Campari. The touch of mezcal adds an entirely new flavour dimension and the chocolate garnish pairs very well.

4 // Garden of Eden, The Old Man
This is my favourite of its artisanal cocktails: Rotovap honeydew rye whiskey, goat's milk bourbon, caramelized Sauternes cordial, orange and phosphate bitters. It's one to be savoured. 

5 // The Machete, Eaton HK
I proudly serve this at Terrible Baby at Eaton HK. I use a healing blend of botanicals: organic Mezcal Montelobos, coriander infused Cimarron tequila, Cocchi bianco, yuzu juice, lemongrass syrup, aloe vera juice, orange and mandarin bitters for the perfect balance of Asian and Western flavours. 

Top tip
Jet-lagged? Look out for one of Hong Kong's many foot reflexology parlours — there's at least one in every neighbourhood and they're open 'til late. A one-hour neck and foot massage should cost about £20.

Published in the November 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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