One Year In: What It’s Like to Live In Hong Kong (Part 2 – Cocktailing and Wining in HK)

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Cuisine, Festivals, General

Following our first year in Hong Kong (and my first post on living in HK and the great – or sometimes not-so-great! – outdoors), come along with me for a spin through the (classier side of the) drinking scene!

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Hong Kongers (and expats – I suppose that now includes me) LOVE to drink. I mean, LOVE. I used to think that New Yorkers enjoyed drinking, but turns out, our decade-long experience there was a mere warm-up to the drinking scene in HK.

Deb The Principal 2

Notice a pattern here?

A variety of delicious cocktails at the beautiful bar at Mott 32, a modern Cantonese newcomer (and former bank/vault space)

A variety of delicious cocktails at the beautiful Mott 32, a modern Cantonese newcomer (go primarily for the drinks and the space, as the cuisine and service seem to already be waning somewhat)

On LKF and bottomless brunches

My suggestion is to avoid Lan Kwai Fong (also known as LKF – and no relation to me, thank you very much). Or go once or twice, and get it out of your system. For better or worse, you can drink out in the open here, so the streets in LKF are filled – correction: jam-packed – with drunk, often quite wasted, people every weekend.  But if that’s your scene, then hey, go for it, enjoy!

Infamous Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) - unofficially the district of drinking and debauchery in HK

A relatively ‘quiet’ night in infamous Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) – unofficially the district of drinking and debauchery in HK

If you’re a weekend daytime drinker, you’re in luck – bottomless boozy brunches are a real thing here. Restaurants make most of their $ on alcohol (even if ‘bottomless’), so it’s no surprise that many have opted to add this to their mix of offerings, with usually great success. Since ‘status’ is also a big thing here, well-heeled diners and drinkers can opt to really indulge themselves, and apparently show off to others, by upgrading their lowly bubbly to Dom. It doesn’t impress me, but hey – if you got the goods and the time to spring for it, why not?

Yours truly and Mark enjoying a luxurious brunch (yes, bottomless - drinks, that is!) at The Principal

Yours truly and Mark enjoying a luxurious brunch (yes, bottomless – drinks, that is!) at The Principal

Otherwise, in my humble opinion, there are more interesting and slightly more refined ways to get your tipple on and enjoy a libation or two without getting hammered.

Get your cocktail on

My recommendation? Take advantage of the fact that HK certainly knows how to maximize outdoor spaces (let’s face it, there’s not a lot of indoor space for most of us here) and/or amazing cityscape views. There are dozens upon dozens of sprawling terrace and rooftop cocktail dens – or alternatively, upscale penthouse-level bars – with pricey but usually pretty damn tasty cocktails. My personal favorites are Café Gray Bar at the Upper House Hotel (call ahead for a window-side table), Blackbird, and slightly-out-of-the-way Sugar. But the options are seemingly endless and include other crowd favorites such as Sevva and Armani/Privé (go mostly for the expansive views). Hutong also offers nice cocktails with a lovely, bird’s-eye view of HK Island – and you’ll be reminded that you are actually in China, with its amped-up, hutong-reminiscent interior.

Elegant corridor between the Upper House Hotel and Café Gray Deluxe, a favorite spot for cocktails and a killer view

Elegant corridor between the Upper House Hotel and Café Gray Bar, a favorite spot for cocktails with a killer view

The chic and charming space at contemporary Cantonese spot, Hutong (also a great spot to take in the HK Island skyline - reserve a window side table)

The chic and charming space at contemporary Cantonese spot, Hutong (also a great spot to take in the HK Island skyline – reserve a window side table)

Rose Cherry and Peach Illusion cocktails at Hutong

Rose Cherry and Peach Illusion cocktails at Hutong

And mixologists here do finely craft their cocktails. Earl grey tapioca ‘caviar’ martini spiked with elderflower, anyone? Such alcohol-spiked creativity can be yours at HK’s premium cocktail lab, Quinary, another of our regular gathering places.

Earl Grey 'Caviar' Martini at Quinary, HK's premium cocktail lab (call ahead to snag a table and be prepared to drop serious cash for your fancy libations)

The ultimate cocktail conversation-starter – the Earl Grey ‘Caviar’ Martini (Absolut/elderflower syrup/apple juice/Cointreau/ lemon & lime/earl grey ‘caviar’/air) at undeniably inventive Quinary (call ahead to snag a table and be prepared to drop serious cash for your fancy libations – especially since you’ll want more than 1 or even 2!)

Quinary's playful Marshmallow Duo: Absolut Vanilla/marshmallow milkshake/cream/egg white/ grilled marshmallow/aged Manhattan

Quinary’s playful Marshmallow Duo: Absolut Vanilla/marshmallow milkshake/cream/egg white/ grilled marshmallow/aged Manhattan

Another very worthy cocktail den is the ‘hidden’ bar directly behind Ham & Sherry, our regular weekend haunt (with long waits that help you justify grabbing a cocktail or 2 at the bar before you dine) – made all the more fun by the retro, grade school notebook-style menus that you are encouraged to color!. If you’re into (or curious about) sherry, this is also the place to go. Ham & Sherry boasts the largest selection of sherry in HK, after placing the winning bid at El Bulli’s sherry auction, held when that restaurant decided to close its world-famous Spanish doors. While sherry often conjures images of grannies and great-aunts (and not in a good way), Ham & Sherry is nobly making the effort to change that perception – and with its cool, laid-back vibe, fantastic cocktails, delicious tapas, and friendly service, it just might succeed.

My go-to cocktail in HK - First Kiss (Absolut Citron, ginger syrup, egg white & bitters) at Wan Chai neighborhood favorite, Ham & Sherry (and our usual Friday night spot)

My go-to cocktail in HK – First Kiss (Absolut Citron/ginger syrup/egg white/bitters) at Wan Chai neighborhood favorite, Ham & Sherry (and our usual Friday night spot)

Contemporary Cantonese restaurant/bar/art salon, Duddell’s, offers potent cocktails often with an Asian spin. The upstairs space is particularly nice – elegant, cool, artsy, eclectic but with a sophisticated slant – and with an outdoor terrace to boot. And if you’re art-inclined, you may also enjoy the revolving displays in the gallery downstairs.

The upper level at Duddell's (extended by an outdoor terrace)

The chill upper level at Duddell’s (extended by an outdoor terrace)

5 Spice Margarita (cinnamon and vanilla tequila, fennel seed, clove, triple sec and grapefruit juice) at contemporary Cantonese restaurant/bar/art salon, Duddell's

5 Spice Margarita (cinnamon and vanilla tequila/fennel seed/clove/triple sec/grapefruit juice) at Duddell’s – pretty, but a bit strong and slightly medicinal for my taste

Bonus points for Duddell's cheeky coasters and menus

Bonus points for Duddell’s cheeky coasters and cocktail menus

And if you’re more of a whisky or gin person, may I suggest dark, brooding Angel’s Share or industrial-chic Ping Pong 129 Gintonería, respectively.

Post-ball wine and gin cocktails with Mark, Christina, and Andy at Ping Pong 129 Gintoneria

Post-ball wine and gin cocktails with Mark, Christina, and Andy at Ping Pong 129 Gintonería

Wining in HK

So the cocktails are often pretty great. And with the notable absence of an import tax on wine, there is yet one more excuse (I mean, reason) to imbibe generously. Beyond HK’s countless cocktail venues and extensive wine options at many restaurants, the city also plays host to innumerable wine festivals (I may have attended 1 or 2 myself…).

One of HK's countless wine & dine festivals - this one strategically positioned along the Central waterfront

One of HK’s countless wine & dine festivals – this one strategically positioned along the Central waterfront

Winers become diners at one of the numerous displays at the Amex Wine & Dine Festival

Winers become diners at one of the numerous displays at the American Express Wine & Dine Festival

Edible wine - and HK eats it up! Red wine infused into white chocolate lollipops, at the Amex Wine & Dine Festival

Edible wine! Red wine infused into white chocolate lollipops, at the Amex Wine & Dine Festival

Some of the charcuterie on offer at the Amex Wine & Dine Festival

Some of the charcuterie on offer at the Amex Wine & Dine Festival – to help absorb all that wine!

HK even has its very own winery, The 8th Estate, producing wines on-premises from imported grapes (those grapes are flash-frozen, but before you judge, even Canada makes ice wine, so why not?). As they were recently forced to downsize their Ap Lei Chau location due to rent hikes, they are no longer offering wine tastings, tours, or private events. I cannot yet vouch for the quality of their wines, but for the sheer surprise of this urban winery, it might be worth a shot – and you can conveniently order online for home delivery within HK.

Suffice it to say, if you enjoy drinking, HK will not disappoint. If you don’t, there are plenty of exotic mocktail options for you, too.

So what about the food? Stay tuned for my next post on the culinary scene in HK!

And continuing with my series on One Year In: What It’s Like to Live in Hong Kong, keep an eye out for my near-future posts on immersing in HK’s culture, the people, and the evolution of Hong Kong!

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[As you may have guessed from this post, I’m not much of a beer drinker, so I’ll have to defer to others for their top beer spots. Cocktails, wine, beer, or otherwise – please share your favorites below!]

All images © 2014 deb fong photography

 

 

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Globetrotter based in Hong Kong, travel and street photographer, Getty Images contributor, award-winning blogger of WanderFong.com - seeking true beauty in travel and life!

5 thoughts on “One Year In: What It’s Like to Live In Hong Kong (Part 2 – Cocktailing and Wining in HK)”

  1. Pingback: One Year In: What It’s Like to Live in Hong Kong (Part 3 – The Food Scene) | HONG KONG FONG

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