TOP BARS IN ASIA
Paying liquid tribute to one of the world’s greatest conurbations, Manhattan – within the Regent Singapore – and its current cocktail menu celebrate the 19th century’s golden age of drinking through the iconic libations born of the era. Hued with warm tones, the grand lounge melds Old World glamour with luxe contemporary comfort via velvet arm chairs, rich drapery and mahogany tables. A fitting backdrop to sample over 150 rare American whiskies, or a solera-aged Negroni produced through the bar’s onsite rickhouse – the first for any hotel around the world.
Indulge Experimental Bistro, Taiwan
Indulge’s owner Aki Wang is at the forefront of Taipei’s dynamic cocktail scene with an approach that takes international bar trends and gives them a Taiwanese twist. Witness the signature Spring Awakening, inspired by the island’s micro-seasons, with Japanese gin, Cointreau, bergamot and the unusual addition of Yakult. Other highlights at the chic, purple-lit bar include the 1795 Old Fashioned and Ruby Black (black tea liqueur and single malt whisky with beetroot, raspberry, rose and citrus reduction), while the modern European food menu is another reason to settle in.
The second-highest ranked bar in Singapore and only just celebrating its third anniversary, Native takes its inspiration from the local and regional landscape, serving cocktails with foraged ingredients from jasmine blossom to turmeric leaves. The brainchild of mix maestro Vijay Mudaliar, it’s a boundary-pushing approach which results in highly original drinks such as Antz – a mix of Thai rum, aged sugarcane, tapioca and soursop topped with ants on a frozen basil leaf. The vibe is relaxed with apron-clad staff at the stripped-back brick bar happy to chat with customers about the exotic ingredients.
Gin and Champagne lovers are in for a treat at this grand Art Deco lobby and bar in Singapore’s Bugis neighbourhood. More than 250 Champagnes and 1,000 gins are available from the towering gilded bar, with the latter put to work in a collection of cocktails inspired by the roaring 30s. Try stand-out Atlas Martini, made with London dry gin, Ambrato vermouth, orange bitters and champagne vinegar, made with London dry gin, sloe berry gin, pineapple, Italian sweet vermouth and Champagne, or the delicious Coloured Rhythm, with floral gin, elderflower liqueur, cedar wood, lemon and the fascinating ‘coloured sweetness’.
High Five, Tokyo, Japan
It’s high fives all round for this sleek, low-lit bar, which has received widespread acclaim thanks to the drive of owner Hidetsugu Ueno. A move to larger premises has done nothing to dampen the bartender’s fire with the same inspired approach to cocktails, plus a 200-strong whisky list. Ueno’s Bellinis, Singapore Slings, Martinis and his signature White Lady remain a benchmark, while classics such as Ceremony – J’s whisky, green tea liqueurs, and matcha bitters – and Bamboo are as popular as ever.
Speak Low, Shanghai, China
The secret entrance to Shingo Gokan’s standout bar might no longer be a secret, but its mystique still reigns strong. A slide-away bookcase in a cocktail equipment shop leads to a funky space that wouldn’t look out of place in downtown Manhattan and serves fine-tuned signature serves and well-wrought New York staples. The second floor is more refined with rarefied spirits and Japanese-style attention to detail. Don’t miss the eponymous Speak Low cocktail, featuring Bacardi Superior, Bacardi 8, Pedro Ximenez sherry and matcha.
The Bamboo Bar at Mandarin, Thailand
The Mandarin Oriental hotel’s bar has been a sanctuary for music lovers ever since it opened in 1953, with live jazz still a prominent part of the experience today. Combining bamboo furniture, tiger skin prints and polished service, the room has an exotic, club-like feel. Long-standing libations, such as the Thaijito, are joined by music-inspired creations including Riffin’ The Scotch – Johnny Walker Gold, mushroom, pear and agave – which ‘breaks the barriers,’ much like Billie Holiday did for the jazz oeuvre.
Jigger & Pony, Singapore
You won’t find liquid nitrogen and smoke guns at this charming bar, which goes about its business in a refreshingly old-school way. The distinguished dark wood counter is dedicated to classic and vintage cocktails from a killer Martini and soothing Moscow Mule to a Ramos Gin Fizz that would get nods of approval in New Orleans. Staff, headed by Jerrold Khoo – whose mantra is that customers must leave happier than when they came in – are warm and welcoming and there’s a buzzy atmosphere that’s convivial but never rowdy.
Quinary, Hong Kong, China
Today considered a bastion of progressive cocktails in Hong Kong’s ever-expanding bar scene, hometown hero Antonio Lai – responsible for several of the city’s top drinking dens – launched Quinary in 2012, and since then the forward-thinking bar has collected countless accolades. The industrial-designed space, with a long, glowing bar, takes a modernist approach, with drinks engineered to stimulate the senses, using technology like rotovap distillation and centrifuges. Don’t miss the bar’s signature: the Earl Grey Caviar Martini, made with Cointreau, citrus vodka, elderflower syrup, topped with Earl Grey caviar “air”.
TIPPLING CLUB, SINGAPORE
It’s now over 10 years since chef Ryan Clift opened his acclaimed boundary-pushing gastro-cocktail destination, but he continues to break new ground in his vision of drinks and food pairings. After moving to a new location with Joe Schofield (formerly of The Savoy) at the helm, the bar’s ‘edible menu’ still brings praise. Order up an umami bomb: tequila, dill, plum, citrus and beer which is paired with langoustine and kohlrabi. End proceedings with crème Catalana and Sombremesa, which is sherry, orange and bourbon.
COA, HONG KONG
Jay Kahn named his Hong Kong bar after the machete-like tool used for harvesting agave – the plant from which both mezcal and tequila are distilled. Coa pays homage to both spirits, offering the city’s largest agave collection, clocking in at around 200 bottles. Within the candle-lit, industrial-designed space, spirit enthusiasts pop in for rare mezcal varietals plus other unsung agave-based liquors, plus signature cocktails like the grapefruit-spiked mezcal and tequila blend, La Paloma de Oaxaca.
Debuting at No.12, Coa is also the winner of the Highest New Entry Award 2019.
THE SG CLUB, TOKYO
With two Shanghai-based cocktail clubs claiming spaces on Asia’s 50 Best Bars already under his belt, Japanese bartender Shingo Gokan has finally launched his first solo project on home turf. Emphasising a fusion of Japanese and American bartending styles, and incorporating unsung flavour combinations using ingredients from all over the world, The SG Club, which stands for “Sip” and “Guzzle”, claims two floors, with slightly different drinking experiences offered on each. At Guzzle, upstairs, guests sip drinks such as the Banana Daiquiri within a pub-like space, an industrial aesthetic and jazz sets the tone for more spirit-forward intoxicants, such as the LOL, built with aged Scotch, aged plum liqueur, and melon.
CHARLES H, SEOUL
The outstanding Charles H, on the lower level of Seoul’s Four Seasons hotel, pays tribute to early 20th century writer and bon vivant Charles H Baker, author of essential cocktail book, The Gentleman’s Companion. Taking a cue from the same era, Charles H weaves together the dark, subterranean feel of New York Prohibition-era speakeasies with a sense of luxury and glamour via etched brass tabletops and an expansive seven-meter tapestry modeled after braided hairstyles from Korea’s Imperial family. Here, the cocktail list is divided into sections dedicated to cities Baker visited throughout his travels, with libations inspired by place and time.
Charles H is The Best Bar in Korea 2019, sponsored by Cointreau.
Named after the famous pickled onion Martini, Gibson is housed in a Singaporean shop house and has become a firm favourite thanks to an innovative approach to craft cocktails. Its 2018 menu is divided into the ‘Classics’ (Gibson Whiskey Sour, Old Fashioned); ‘Southeast Asia’ (Mango PX, Urban Farmer); Japan-inspired (Sake-tini, Bamboo and Rice) and ‘Non Alcoholic’ (Virgin Americano, Dill and Pear). Everything is inspired by the region, whether from Singapore itself or from the team’s travels around Asia.
SOBER COMPANY, SHANGHAI
A trio of experiences make up this destination, each as dumbfounding as the last at this ironically named bar. There are small plates at Sober Café and modern Chinese dining at the Sober Kitchen. But it’s the Sober Society that attracts alcohol aficionados thanks to creative cocktails such as the Take a Break (hoji-cha whiskey, hinoki syrup, lavender bitters, citrus, egg white) and the Godfather III. A ‘secret’ bar called Tipsy, hidden somewhere in the building, is also rumoured, so keep eyes fully peeled.
BAR BENFIDDICH, TOKYO
Hiroyasu Kayama’s charming bar resembles an apothecary thanks to numerous herbal infusions and unusual potions that line the shelves. Clad in a white jacket, the bartender can often be found grinding roots, herbs and spices grown on his family’s own plot of land, which add complexity to aromatic cocktails based on gin, whisky, absinthe and amaro. They are also used in homemade liqueurs – the bar is well-known for making its own version of Campari.
THE WISE KING, HONG KONG
This new entry to our list and the Hong Kong bars scene opened in July 2018. It pays tribute to Alfonso X of Castile, a 13th-century Spanish monarch who allegedly contributed to the creation of the country’s culinary tradition of tapas by passing a decree stating that no alcoholic beverage should be served without food. From the signature cocktail named after Alfonso himself, El Sabio or The Wise (featuring spiced peach and pineapple wine reduction with Cava) to an Old Fashioned with Ibérico ham, everything here has a Spanish twist. Enjoy the creative concoctions with a side of patatas bravas in the intimate space with plush velvet seats and golden Damask-style wallpaper.
LE CHAMBER, SEOUL
Step into Le Chamber’s library, push the magical book, and a hidden door slides open to reveal a handsome illuminated bar with sunken lounge chairs beneath glowing chandeliers. Live piano music provides a mellow soundtrack, while patrons suck down whiskey pours and libations inspired by flavours from around the world. Don’t overlook the Ginseng Martini, it’s based around Korea’s most famous medicinal root, macerated for six months in soju; while the European-friendly Love or Hate blends the unsung mashup of truffles, whiskey and amontillado sherry.
BACKSTAGE COCKTAIL BAR, BANGKOK
Part of the theatre-themed Playhaus hotel, this fun cocktail bar hidden behind heavy stage curtains is styled as a glitzy dressing room, complete with red velvet sofas and lightbulb-framed mirrors. Set up by a collective of Thailand’s leading bartenders, Backstage has a relaxed, light-hearted vibe, but takes its mixology seriously with clever creations, such as the C&Y – chamomile-infused Stolichnaya, apple, yuzu orange, lemon, sugar and angostura bitters.
The Old Man, Hong Kong, China
Despite only opening in 2017, this year’s No. 1 has made waves across Asia’s drinks scene. An abstract, geometric portrait of Ernest Hemingway assembled from surplus building materials leftover from The Old Man’s build three years ago casts a watchful eye over curious imbibers who sip on drinks flavoured with lacto-fermented raspberry and beeswax-infused bourbon. Inspired by the American novelist’s worldly travels and penchant for proper potations, and named after his 1952 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Old Man and The Sea, here co-founder and head bartender Agung Prabowo has built a concise list of libations inspired by the author’s favourite drinks, spirits and flavours.