Asia Pacific bars to visit in 2020By Luke McCarthy
The Asia Pacific region plays host to many exciting bars, from Hong Kong and mainland China right down to Australia. These are the ones to watch next year.
There has never been a better time to bar hop around the Asia Pacific region. As 2020 approaches, confidence in the on‐trade is palpable with new and daring concepts popping up all over the place. And in stark contrast to the political antagonism emanating from opposite sides of the Pacific, Asia’s most impressive new bars are revelling in cross‐cultural exchange.
Collaborations between Asian, American and European industry pros are fusing together different cultures. A deeper connection between food and drink is one of the tastiest by‐products of this transference.
But competition is another driver. With so many brilliant bars now established throughout Asia, everyone’s looking for a point of difference. Local ingredients are becoming even more vital, as bartenders find ingenious ways to reflect who they are and where they’re from.
Bartender‐owners are also opening venues in booming Asian cities where the market is unexplored, since the initial investment is less intimidating and the potential for growth is immense.
Click through the following pages to discover Asia Pacific’s top bars to watch in 2020.
Not to be missed: Bar Margaux – Melbourne, Australia
Michael and Zara Madrusan’s Made in the Shade group was responsible for bringing Bar Margaux to Melbourne in July 2019. It’s the latest achievement from a duo that has pioneered Melbourne’s thriving bar culture. It began with The Everleigh, which Michael founded in 2011 with Sasha Petraske. The goal: to bring the best and most fastidious elements of New York cocktail culture to Australia.
Then Heartbreaker appeared in 2015, a rowdy dive bar punching out quality drinks and 1970s rock till the wee hours. A futile search for the best possible ice then led to the creation of Navy Strength Ice Co, which now supplies a number of Melbourne’s best cocktail bars with blocks of perfect ice.
And to make doubly sure Melbournians could access quality booze, The Everleigh Bottling Co was then developed so devotees could enjoy bottled cocktails in the comfort of their own homes.
Clearly, the Madrusans do nothing by halves, and that level of commitment is evident at Margaux. The late‐night basement bar was inspired by New York’s French‐American brasseries, and despite the full dinner menu, the Madrusans firmly insist that Margaux is a bar that does great food, rather than a restaurant playing at the bar game – and a strong cocktail and wine list backs that claim.
The drinks here are flawless, and are executed by a team at the forefront of the booze scene in Australia’s food‐and‐drink capital.
Bar Margaux has been named our overall bar to watch in Asia Pacific.
The Wise King – Hong Kong, China
Founded in July 2018 by bartending luminaries Joe Villanueva and Sandeep Kumar, The Wise King is a slice of 13th‐century Spanish indulgence in the heart of Hong Kong’s Soho district. The bar pays homage to King Alfonso X of Castile, who decreed that all alcohol must be served with small bits of food, after illness forced him to adopt the practice. It’s an origin story for Spain’s tapas culture, and at The Wise King a tight but brilliantly executed cocktail list adds Spanish inflections to the classics.
The El Sabio (meaning ‘The Wise’) marries a spiced peach and pineapple reduction with Cava, while the Jamón Old Fashioned adds walnut bitters and a cantaloupe syrup to a base of jamón‐infused Bourbon.
Top drinks like these with a range of tapas, Spanish charcuterie and cheeses, and salute the wise king.
Hope & Sesame – Guangzhou, China
On China’s mainland, Shanghai and Beijing are renowned for drinking glory. But in the southern city of Guangzhou, bars such as Hope & Sesame, which opened in 2016, are signalling the emergence of a fast‐growing hospitality scene.
Hidden behind a speakeasy‐style storefront entrance, Hope & Sesame has brought American craft cocktail culture to China’s third largest city. From sous‐vide infusions to spirits redistilled with local herbs and spices, many of the ingredients have an in‐house twist, but the drinks they end up in are modelled on three‐ or four‐ingredient classics.
Push through a secret door inside the venue to find The Jazz Room, where a rotating roster of musicians celebrate another venerable American tradition.
The SG Club – Tokyo, Japan
The SG Club is a homecoming achievement for founder Shingo Gokan. Inspired by the first diplomatic mission of samurai sent to New York in 1860, Gokan wondered what the samurai made of New York’s bar culture, and what ideas they returned with. His answer – The SG Club.
A Tokyo‐native, Gokan’s march to global acclaim began with a long stint at New York’s Angel’s Share, and was followed by his three award‐winning Shanghai venues.
But with The SG Club, Gokan also wanted to capture something of his personal journey. Inside, there are three distinct levels to explore: Guzzle, the first floor, modelled on a 19th‐century American saloon, offers casual, quaffable cocktails; Sip, which is on the level below, serves more spirit‐forward drinks that match the darker speakeasy vibe; and the recently opened Savour, the membership level, blends Cuban cigars with Edo‐ influenced Japanese aesthetics.
Native – Singapore
Singapore has long been a breeding ground for some of the world’s most progressive bars, and it’s time to add Vijay Mudaliar’s Native to that list.
Since opening in 2016, Native has been celebrating the flavours of Singapore and the surrounding region. Local ingredients are fundamental to the cocktails here, with the likes of pandan, jackfruit and laksa leaves crossing over from a range of regional dishes into a list of inspired drinks.
It’s all about what’s fresh, what’s in season and what the team has been able to forage – an ethos that has already seen the venue win awards for its sustainability efforts.
The Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental – Bangkok, Thailand
Many of Asia’s historic hotel bars have been revamped in recent years, but the work done to The Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok is a blueprint for others to follow.
After a renovation in 2014, the venue has climbed up Asia’s best bar lists and has taken many top awards. Jazz has always been a mainstay of The Bamboo Bar since it was founded in 1953, and a number of legendary musicians have contributed to the bar’s devoted following.
Guests are still treated to live tunes from 9pm every night, while the bar’s moody, colonial‐era charm – which includes wicker chairs, tiger prints and whirring fans – also remains intact.
The key upgrades focused on the décor and the drinks programme, which now befit the bar’s iconic reputation. The current Compass menu is a prime example. It was inspired by Thailand’s five regions, with drinks such as the Hang Lay, made with ginger, turmeric, tamarind and lime, accompanying locally made Phraya rum.