Many years ago I was returning to Australia from a trip to Europe and the plane made an unscheduled stop in Bangkok for 36 hours. We were whisked through Customs and bussed to a city hotel, then left to our own devices.
I felt like holing up in a cosy bar somewhere to contemplate life, the universe and everything; but without any knowledge of this foreign city, that seemed an impossible task. The concierge had no idea what I was looking for, and I ended up wandering around aimlessly only to eventually give up in favour of a bland beer from the mini-bar.
This is when I swore I would research and seek out the type of bar I liked in as many Asian cities as I could. It took years, but I’m happy to share it with you.
Katsu The Hamilton: the bar if you love whisky. Their selection is astounding, and they stock a lot of rarities that you never see anywhere else. As a bonus, you can order their famous katsu (fried pork sandwich), which is probably the best in the city.
Bar Benfiddich: Apothecary inspired, in-house infusions, big accent on foraging. Most interesting are the vast number of aromatics, mostly sourced from Hiroyasu Kayama’s parents’ farm just north of the city. They don’t just experiment with infusions, they also operate a 20-litre still where they make their own absinthe.
Gen Yamamoto: Minimalistic style, fresh seasonal ingredients, serving an omakase tasting menu that conforms with the ‘shiki’ principle, e.g. only seasonal produce used. Great pairing of food and cocktails
1945 Chinese Tavern: This is a bar celebrating China’s forgotten drinks, Huangjiu and Baijiu. Huangjiu is a low-alcohol beverage made predominantly from rice and literally called ‘yellow wine’, the most famous one hailing from Shaoxing. It’s an old people’s drink and desperately uncool, however this bar might just change your mind. Baijiu is a white spirit distilled from fermented sorghum, and much harder to please a Western palate.
Speak Low: A New York-inspired speakeasy that you enter via a secret door in a bartending equipment shop. You won’t believe the size of this bar, spanning several floors. The only place I found in China that served Negroni Sbagliato, a Negroni where the gin is substituted by prosecco. Great vibe.
Hope and Sesame: Speakeasy featuring in-house distillations and behind yet another secret door you will find the famous ‘The Jazz Room’, with superb live jazz where talented musicians jam the night away. This is a really hip place. If you have a hard time finding it, use the Chinese name MiaoQian Bing She (庙前冰室), and any taxi driver will get you there.
28 Hong Kong Street: Hidden behind a shop front, this sleek bar invites company with its secluded booths. This is your kind of place if you like hip-hop inspired themes, both in cocktails, food and ambience. Great spot for a first date.
Native: Cocktail bar that uses local produce and Asian spirits only, focusing on foraging. These guys make familiar ingredients sing. Mango, of course; cinnamon, sure; tapioca... really? The perfect place to experience new dimensions with ingredients you know and love.
Manhattan Bar: Hotel bar in the Regent with a cocktail menu divided into eras with a fabulous ageing room. Travel through time, and experience drinks from a bygone age.
Atlas: An jaw-dropping Art Deco extravagance inside the similarly-designed Parkview Square building on North Bridge Road. Visit for the style, stay for the gin. This is my favourite bar in Singapore to either get lost in, or find yourself.
The Old Man: This is a replica of the famous Hong Kong bar (see below), complete with the amazing Ernest Hemingway mosaic made from second-hand building materials. A cooler brass plate that runs the length of the T-shaped counter keeps your drinks cold and prevents your ice from melting. The communal table encourages exchanges between strangers.
The Old Man: Modern cocktail bar and homage to Ernest Hemingway, plus one of the ‘it’ bars of Asia. Cocktails assembled with unusual ingredients and featuring in-house distillates. Try the ‘Torrents of Spring’, a creation remembering 1926. It’s a revelation.
Coa: This agave bar is probably the best outside Mexico, and the varieties on offer are staggering. The owner, Jay Khan, is an absolute legend and twice (and current) Hong Kong bartender of the year. Very well advised to make a booking.
Quinary: A bar focusing on the art of mixology, entertaining your senses and perceptions in cocktails. We are not just talking different aromatics, flavours and textures, but even music plays its part. Great spot to experiment with all your senses.
8 ½: Otto E Mezzo Bombana is the only Italian restaurant outside of Italy that has been awarded three Michelin stars, and features a fabulous drinks list and, of course, Umberto Bombana’s amazing food. This is not a place for a quick drink; make a night of it.
Charles H: In honour of Charles H. Baker, this prohibition-era speakeasy and luxurious cocktail bar, inside the Four Seasons Hotel on the lower ground floor, is a wonderful, quiet place to have a drink, away from the hustle and bustle upstairs. I adore their refreshing ‘Ms Frida’ cocktail with blanco tequila, lavender, grapefruit, bergamot and tonic.
Le Chamber: Accessible through a downstairs library, touch the secret book and the wall swings open to reveal the space. Lots of great spirits here, but I suggest you try the Chamber Mule to start your evening. Drinks are inspired by flavours from around the world; enjoy them with live music.
PS 150 – A well-kept secret by the many expats living in this city. Situated near China Town, it excels in superb cocktails and some great bar snacks. I suggest you arrive early, as by 11pm it’s so packed that there isn't even standing room. Interestingly, even when totally full, it never appears too noisy.
The Bamboo Bar: Located in the Mandarin Oriental, this place has been going since 1953 and is a real institution. A club-like cocktail bar with a great selection of spirits and cocktails, and featuring live jazz. Relax, immerse and enjoy.
Backstage Cocktail Bar: Part of the theatre-themed Playhaus Hotel, the cocktail bar follows the same vibe. It’s intimate and Neung, the owner, has been the winner of the World Class award for Thailand, and is the current Bacardi Legacy global winner. Try the C&Y cocktail.
Find The Locker Room: A real speakeasy-styled cocktail bar, purposely hard to find, from the same team as Backstage. It’s situated in a narrow, un-named passageway off the busy Soi Thonglor. Look for an alcove lined with storage lockers. There’s the main bar downstairs (only 25 seats) and the Rémy bar upstairs (8 seats). Every cocktail is offered in a ‘Classic’, a ‘Present’ and a ‘Future’ version, and I suggest selecting one then trying all three versions.
Vesper: A Mayfair, London-inspired art-heavy cocktail bar, serving classic cocktails inspired by well-known pieces of art – for example, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans. It might not make you an artist, but it will inspire you.