Despite its tropical climate, Hong Kong is overflowing with infectious energy that its shirt-sticking, brow-slicking humidity simply can’t restrain. You’ll soon be craving to paint the town a balls-to-the-wall shade of garish Chinese red. As my friend Jim, a legendary party animal, might have said: ‘The East’s a feast – get here and we’ll let out the beast!’
So when (not if) the high-life spirit takes you, here are some tried, tested and trusted suggestions for where to go. Brace yourself!
Ozone, perched on the 118th floor of the fabulous Ritz Carlton in Kowloon, is officially the world’s highest bar. The mainland may be less fashionable, but you wouldn’t think so here. With viscerally glam decor by Japanese design house Wonderwall, a bar selection that commands both the premium and the niche, wrap-around views of the peninsula, boats, mountains and skyscrapers merging with the blue sky, it’s an uptown hang-out with a pulsating undertone. From this astronautical height, sipping sundowners is an indelible, knock-your-socks-off experience: no matter who you are or where you’ve been, you’ll be impressed. I was particularly enamoured with its gin and tonic promotion, consisting of eight combinations of different gins and tonics, a variety of garnishes and additional ingredients ranging from acacia honey to green tea syrup. Whiskies also feature in pleasing abundance: I counted 48, including six Glenlivets.
Alchemy, in the unhinged central district of Hong Kong island, where it all goes down, has styled itself as a “gastronomic lounge”. An apothecaric alcove at the entrance appears to be a dead end, before a sliding panel opens to grant you access. It’s a nice touch that sets the chic tone maintained throughout. The emphasis is culinary, but that doesn’t mean you get short-changed elsewhere – quite the opposite. The bar’s stocked with the usual generous assortment of premium spirits I came to expect in Hong Kong. The mixologist demonstrates a passionate proficiency in making 10 different varieties of mojitos, while there are some surprises in store – notably a few options of Calvados (rare outside France) and an über-cool bottle of Chivas Revolve. Its “treble” notwithstanding, Alchemy’s all about that bass. A three-star Michelin chef provides a tapas menu for the loungers, but the serious action takes place in the basement, where you can dine in the dark. The idea is to augment your sense of taste by depriving you of your sight. Intriguing.
The evocatively named Angel’s Share is Hong Kong’s premier whisky bar. I’d heard murmurings about “secret” Japanese whisky bars, worth investigating further, but I can’t imagine they’d top this venue on all-round appeal. The assemblage of whiskies is pleasing and considered (and, indeed, there’s also a beefy Japanese offering), with enough variety in provenance, style and vintage to satisfy most whisky-lovers. The setting’s plush and tasteful, with lots of the leather and wood that pairs so well with whisky. The centrepiece of Angel’s Share, however, is the life-sized cask (it has a stainless steel membrane) that dominates the entrance and which is filled with private bottling – including, when I was there, a 17-year-old Glenlivet with punchy notes of citrus and spice. It may be a bit gimmicky, but even for someone who’s drunk whisky in an actual dunnage warehouse, it warms the cockles to be served from a cask with a valinch.
I’m tempted to say that I’m showing you the way to the next whisky bar, but while the Shangri-La’s Lobster Bar and Grill has a brown spirits bedrock, it aspires to more than just whisky. This place is a heady mix of the majestically modern and the unashamedly masculine colonial – my stiff dram of Glenlivet (theme for the trip, 21-year-old this time) was served in a weighty gentleman’s club-style crystal tumbler – on the adjacent roof terrace. Here, Hong Kong’s skyscrapers watch over you like towering sentinels. This is the type of place where you can listen to live music (six days a week), smoke a cigar and have a few drinks with the friendly (and naughty!) bar staff. Time well spent.
Cocktails have become increasingly elaborate and nowhere more so than at The Envoy, whose concoctions are global award-winners. This bar is so serious about its cocktails that it even has a rotary evaporator on site which is used to re-distill spirits with a variety of added ingredients. I tasted an Absolut Vodka and pandan leaf distillation that demonstrated an incredible, integrated infusion of flavours. The bar offers cocktails ranging from barrel-aged Negronis (which I think they consider ho-hum) and tea-centric cocktails (which they pair with their afternoon tea menu) to arrangements like the bizarre, but spectacular True Blood (a deep red, ginseng-flavoured liquid served in a blood bag on a metal “kill” tray).
Last but not least is Le Boudoir – a pulsating speakeasy for the trendy, in-the-know crowd. You’re virtually guaranteed to be one of the only tourists in the place. I walked past its unobtrusive entrance three times before identifying it. Inside you can party with a friendly throng – in my case, some French and Russian expats – until the wee hours to the insomniacal beat of various outstanding DJs, including South African Ryan Ashton.