Bars in Asia February 2020: New Watering Holes and Bars That Are Gone Too Soon

We’re only two months into 2020, but it already feels like the world has been hit by plateful after plateful of drama. And as much as we wish otherwise, these events affect the drinks industry whether we like it or not. As we march into the new decade, we take a step back to look at the current bar landscape in the key drinking cities around Asia.

Having an acclaimed branding and star-studded cast is no longer a guarantee of success. A tough location, a change in public taste — anything can go wrong, really. We salute the bars that closed before hitting the new decade, and pay heed to the new and upcoming.

What we wish were still open

Employee’s Only, Hong Kong

Employee’s Only was the talk of the town when it first arrived in Hong Kong from New York in 2017. It is, after all, one of the top bars in the world. The Hong Kong speakeasy was no slouch either, climbing up the ranks to 41st on Asia’s 50 Best Bars, so it was a shame when it had to shut its doors in September last year.

The Sea by The Old Man, Hong Kong

Of course, more than one cocktail bar in Hong Kong fell last year. The decline in tourist numbers, linked to the Hong Kong protests, has been cited as a reason. Despite their short tenure, The Sea has achieved quite a bit in a short time, serving as a parallel dimension to the The Old Man next door. In a way, it was another platform for Agung Prabowo, James Tamang, and Roman Ghale to add colour and contrast to their drinks, with a straightforward list of 10 numbered cocktails that challenged the idea of what a cocktail is.

Birds of Paradise, Shanghai

Birds of Paradise was a heck of a place that sadly had to bow out of the game in . Run by bartender Yao Lu and chef Austin Hu of Union Trading Company, the tiki bar on Yanping Lu was the kind of place to blast out The Beach Boy’s ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ through its speakers as tipplers sat at its bamboo-covered bar sipping the day away. We’ll miss their creative interpretations of tiki standards, utilising everything from pandan to dill.

The Monarchy, Singapore

The Monarchy was run by the nightlife veterans behind some of the world’s best F1 afterparties, The Podium Lounge, bringing with it wild nights for celebrities, royalty, and drinkers alike inside a heritage shophouse in Singapore’s CBD. This quintessentially British cocktail bar will be missed for its distinctly regal theme and cocktails that paid homage to famous figures, from a salty rum-based concoction called Jack Sparrow to the Sherlock Holmes, an Old Fashioned scented with smoked oak.

New openings that left an impression

Crimson Room, Bangkok

Walking into the new Crimson Room in Bangkok is probably like going back into the Gatsby era, what with plush velvet couches facing a stage and a golden Art Deco-style chandelier that’s strong enough to hold swinging aerialists. But this isn’t really the place for champagne, not when there are signature cocktails in concocted by Bangkok star Suwincha “Chacha” Singsuwan in dove-shaped glasses.

KONKORD, Bangkok

This new style of cocktail bar in Bangkok focuses on its music just as much as its drinks — as you might guess from its retro club-style digs. Adopting an unpretentious and ever-evolving approach to nightlife, KONKORD took up residence on the famed Soi 11 stretch in Sukhumvit from the end of 2019. These guys are big on fresh ingredients and authentic flavours, paired to the tune of hip hop, disco, and soul by DJs and live performers.

The Shady Acres, Hong Kong

The Shady Acres is one of the fresher watering holes in Hong Kong that’s thriving well into the decade. When Mike Watt and Ryan Nightingale’s cheeky Shady Acres opened in the rambunctious SoHo near the middle of 2019, it turned the street where it is on into a regular block party of vino lovers spilling out from the door. And with a natural wine list that spans over 200 labels, including 20 by-the-glass options, who can complain?

Tell Camellia, Hong Kong

Barely three months old, Sandeep Hathiramani and Gagan Gurung’s alleyway speakeasy Tell Camellia is a nod towards Hong Kong’s deep-rooted tea culture. It’s one of those rare specialty bars that we love, because who doesn’t like tea? Covered in regal green and gold, their self-described ’tea tails’ come unpretentious but creative, with the kind of care and detail only tea freaks can come up with. T-Tonics, anyone?

Live Twice, Singapore

A bar inspired by mid-century modern era Japan? The Jigger & Pony Group’s latest establishment opened its doors last December, taking over the space once occupied by their previous venture Flagship. Live Twice could pass off for a bar in Ginza, what with the Japanese level of precision by Principal Bartender Yinying Leow and the group’s Bar Programme Director Aki Eguchi, paired with premium Kimura glassware and exquisite drinks named after geishas.

Philtration, Bangkok

Philtration is Bangkok’s latest speakeasy bar, setting up shop in the cosmopolitan Pathum Wan district just last December. This is where Shavinraj Gopinath pays homage to the Moh Mee family, one of the city’s leading pharmaceutical company, with a series of cocktails dedicated to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Think bitter Chang beer reduction with fresh beetroot juice, or even a Martini infused with Moh Mee’s medicines. Read our interview with Sha here.

MU: Taipei

MU: is the latest baby of industry veteran Nick Wu, the same man behind Bar Mood in the city’s Eastern District. But you probably already knew that. We don’t have details yet, but we do know that Bannie Kang, previously of the award-winning Anti:dote in Singapore will be heading the bar programme here, paired with refined tapas by chef-owner Tryson Quek.

Top Image: Crimson Room

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