The global bar industry might be in turmoil at the moment but awards like Asia’s 50 Best Bars aim to bring a little light into what might seem like a devastated landscape. While the future may still seem a little hazy, it is still important to acknowledge the accomplishments of these bars over the last 12 months.
The list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020, sponsored by Perrier, was revealed via a virtual awards ceremony on 14th May. Now in its fifth edition, it features eight new entries and one re-entry, with bars across 10 countries. The publication of the 2020 list is intended to provide recognition to the bars’ and their teams’ hard work and to instill optimism and positivity within the bar industry as the continent begins to open up.
50. Bar Cham – Seoul, South Korea – NEW ENTRY
Tucked away in one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Seoul, Bar Cham is set in a hanok, or a traditional Korean house, which hints at what is to come. Helmed by Lim Byung-jin, it offers cocktails based on Korean spirits with local flavours using modern techniques.
49. Le Chamber – Seoul, South Korea
Step into Le Chamber’s library, push the magical book, and a hidden door slides open to reveal a handsome illuminated bar with sunken lounge chairs beneath glowing chandeliers. Live piano music provides a mellow soundtrack, while patrons suck down whiskey pours and libations inspired by flavours from around the world.
48. Coley – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Coley was created by Kuala Lumpur’s star bartender CK Kho. The name pays homage to The Savoy Hotel’s most famous female bartender, Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman, who left her mark on the industry in the early 1900s with the Hanky Panky. Needless to say that’s a classic at the bar, but well-accompanied by many contemporary creations that draw inspiration from Malaysian flavours.
47. Alice – Seoul, South Korea
Finding this trendy spot in Seoul’s Gangnam district is an adventure involving white rabbit signs, a flight of stairs and a secret door at the back of a flower shop. Once through it, you enter a wonderland of wacky cocktails, served in what looks like a grand, wood-panelled gentlemen’s club.
46. MO Bar – Singapore – NEW ENTRY
Its location on the 4th floor of the Mandarin Oriental means impressive views at MO Bar, but that’s not all that impresses. The gorgeous Pacific Ocean inspired décor also influences the cocktail programme with its regional travel theme.
45. The Back Room – Manila, Philippines
Speakeasy is the style here, all money green Chesterfields, banquettes and leather walls, with a glistening black marble floor and bar. Prohibition-style drinks hold sway, alongside a rangeof house-made bottlings and infusions.
44. Lobster Bar & Grill – Hong Kong, China
Almost every top mixologist in the great drinking city of Hong Kong has clocked time behind the ramp at Lobster Bar & Grill, on the sixth floor of Island Shangri-La hotel. Expect expertly crafted libations mixing Western classics with Asian influences, plus a few dashes of utopian dreams thrown in.
43. Union Brasserie, Bakery & Bar – Jakarta, Indonesia
The all-day-dining and bar concept is a popular one in Jakarta, and this joint embodies it perfectly under the stewardship of bar manager Sabda Adamsyah and head bartender Kiki Moka. Union can transform from a bistro to enjoy Bourbon pork ribs during sunlight to the ideal setting for a Sticky Rice Old Fashioned after sundown.
42. The Curator – Manila, Philippines
Third-wave coffee by day and kick-ass cocktails by night is a winning combination, judging by the popularity of this cool bar. Staff treat ingredients with the utmost respect, whether it’s coffee beans or small-batch spirits, attracting a young, up-for-it crowd of cocktail lovers and caffeine fiends.
41. Bar Orchard Ginza – Tokyo, Japan
For almost a decade now, husband-and-wife team Takuo and Sumire Miyanohara have been mixing and muddling Japan’s most prized fruits into an ever-changing medley of fresh, creative intoxicants. And while drinks born of seasonal produce have, today, become rather commonplace across the world, the duo is credited with helping to kickstart the movement in Asia.
40. Sidecar –New Delhi, India – NEW ENTRY
Brought to you by the same folks who run the popular Cocktails and Dreams Speakeasy, Sidecar is spread over two floors. The first houses an all-day restaurant and is a great place to eat and chill. The second floor is where you’ll find the bar, which is complemented by live music for a livelier atmosphere.
39. Bar Trench – Tokyo, Japan
The dapper bartenders at this back-alley speakeasy are dab hands at traditional absinthe and sugar cube drips, but also showcase the ‘green fairy’ in cocktails such as a ‘frappe’ with lime, orgeat syrup and mint.
38. The Odd Couple – Shanghai, China – NEW ENTRY
Hidden away in chic Xintiandi, this cosy little upstairs bar packs a punch. It’s a joint venture between Shingo Gokan, don of speakeasies in Shanghai and Tokyo, and Steve Schneider of Employees Only fame, who are long-time buddies but with very different bartending styles, which give the bar its name.
37. Junglebird – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The first rum bar in Kuala Lumpur – opened in February 2017 – is named after a drink created in the 1970s at the Hilton’s Aviary Bar and defined as ‘Malaysia’s addition to the classic cocktail genre’.
36. Hope & Sesame – Guangzhou, China
Opening in 2016 as the first speakeasy in Guangzhou, Hope & Sesame brings far-reaching technique (centrifugal clarification, sous vide infusions and dry ice distillation) to a bar scene that previously stuck to the traditional.
35. The Pontiac – Hong Kong, China
The Pontiac is a local cocktail and dive bar focused on inclusivity and excellent drinks, made in volume. The brilliant Beckaly Franks and her team crank the music and service up to 11, while serving a cocktail list that includes favourites such as the now-famous Hobnail (Irish whiskey, ginger, Averna, bitters, orange oil).
34. Caprice Bar –Hong Kong, China – NEW ENTRY
Adjacent to its famed sister restaurant of the same name, Caprice Bar is similarly not to be missed. Known for its fine selection of wines and cheeses (pairings are available) as well as its stunning views of Victoria Harbour, they also shake a mean drink. The drinks menu is thoughtfully concocted and beautifully presented.
33. Backstage Cocktail Bar – Bangkok, Thailand
Part of the theatre-themed Playhaus hotel, this fun cocktail bar hidden behind heavy stage curtains is styled as a glitzy dressing room, complete with red velvet sofas and lightbulb-framed mirrors.
32. Nutmeg & Clove – Singapore – RE-ENTRY
This speakeasy on the 2nd floor of the busy Ann Siang Hill is now in its fifth year and continues to tell the Singapore story. Nutmeg & Clove’s latest menu, called Flavours and Memories, really showcases local flavours from the five main ethnic groups in the Lion City, heavily drawing on their culinary influences.
31. Rabbit Hole – Bangkok, Thailand
Championing Bangkok’s growing love affair with craft cocktails and specialty spirits, the three-storey space has all the hallmarks of a modern, high-quality cocktail bar – it is dimly lit, fairly difficult to find and showcases the best local produce – but manages to stand out from the crowd due to the innovation in the drinks on offer.
30. 28 HongKong Street- Singapore
Despite the secrecy (or perhaps because of it), 28 HongKong Street has become a landmark destination thanks to a fun, laid-back vibe and stellar cocktails from the creative team formed of bar manager Lukas Kaufmann, head bartender Ronan Keilthy and general manager Justin Pallack.
29. Charles H – Seoul, South Korea
The outstanding Charles H, on the lower level of Seoul’s Four Seasons hotel, pays tribute to early 20th century writer and bon vivant Charles H Baker Jr, author of essential cocktail book, The Gentleman’s Companion. Helmed by the ever-dapper Keith Motsi, the bar improves year on year under his talented bar-stewardship.
28. 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana – Hong Kong, China
The cocktail companion to one of Hong Kong’s top Italian restaurants (named after a 1963 movie by director Federico Fellini) expresses the same finesse and quality ingredients harnessed by the kitchen, yet in liquid form. Come early to grab one of the bar’s six seats, which hug a white marble-topped bar.
27. Room By Le Kief – Taipei, Taiwan – NEW ENTRY
The entrance behind a bespoke tailor shop (think the movie The Kingsman) is the first clue that you are in for a unique evening. In this molecular gastronomy restaurant-slash-drinks lab, owner Seven Yi’s creations will surprise and delight you.
26. Draft Land – Taipei, Taiwan
Though it’s common to taste wine before committing to a glass, there is almost never an opportunity to sample a cocktail before ordering. Yet, Draft Land, the micro Taipei drinking den that barman Angus Zou launched in 2018, hinges around cocktails on tap, enabling imbibers to do just that: try before they buy.
25. Gibson – Singapore
Named after the famous pickled onion Martini, Gibson is housed in an intimate Singaporean shop house and has become a perennial favourite thanks to an innovative approach to craft cocktails. Japanese-born head bartender Gento Tarigia – always as impeccably turned out as his drinks – oversees a menu of classics with plenty of regional flair.
24. Tropic City – Bangkok, Thailand
A true oasis within Bangkok’s up-and-coming Charoenkrung neighbourhood, this cool joint reinterprets “tropical” in its widest sense, with inspiration coming from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and even the Bahamas, and a strong focus on rum.
23. D.Bespoke – Singapore
It’s not just owner Daiki Kanetaka’s sharp suits and dickie bows that are well-tailored at this sleek Ginza-style bar, which has notched up more than five years at the top level of the Singaporean drinking scene. The cocktails are just as individually designed, with drinks customised to guests’ personal tastes.
22. The Old Man – Singapore – NEW ENTRY
The Singapore outpost of The Old Man opened to fanfare and while the concept is the same, the larger space gives drinkers more room to breathe. The unique “I” shaped open bar concept is front and centre and perfect for mingling, while a lounge at the back is ideal for larger groups.
21. Bee’s Knees – Kyoto, Japan – HIGHEST NEW ENTRY
This New York-inspired speakeasy opened in April 2018 and has been serving up Prohibition-era cocktails (with a twist), throwback hip hop tunes, and a fun, casual vibe ever since. This dimly lit venue oozes atmosphere and is laid out so that all patrons can sit at the bar.
20. High Five – Tokyo, Japan
It’s high fives all round for this sleek, low-lit bar, which has received widespread acclaim thanks to the drive of owner Hidetsugu Ueno. A move to new (larger) premises in 2017 has done nothing to dampen the bartender’s fire with the same inspired approach to cocktails, plus a 200-strong whisky list that wins praise from across the region.
19. Speak Low – Shanghai, China
The secret entrance to Shingo Gokan’s stand-out bar might no longer be a secret, but its mystique still reigns supreme. A slide-away bookcase in a cocktail equipment shop leads to a funky space that wouldn’t look out of place in downtown Manhattan and serves fine-tuned signature serves and well-wrought New York staples.
18. The Wise King – Hong Kong, China
Less than two years old, and a new entry to the list last year, The Wise King has rapidly established itself as a Hong Kong favourite with a difference. Try the signature cocktail named after Alfonso himself, El Sabio or The Wise, featuring spiced peach and pineapple wine reduction with Cava.
17. Tippling Club – Singapore
It’s well over a decade since chef Ryan Clift opened his boundary-pushing gastro-cocktail destination, but he continues to break new ground in his vision of drinks and food pairings. Try a Bombe Glacee (vetiver, fig leaf, bee pollen, vanilla, tequila, citrus) or the Escoffier-inspired White Truffles in Winter (truffle, orange blossom, popcorn, sherry champagne).
16. Quinary – Hong Kong, China
One of the most forward-thinking bars in Hong Kong’s future-gazing scene, hometown hero Antonio Lai – the man responsible for several of the city’s top drinking dens – launched Quinary in 2012, and since then the hyper-modern bar has collected countless accolades.
15. Bar Benfiddich – Tokyo, Japan
Hiroyasu Kayama’s charming bar resembles an apothecary thanks to the numerous herbal infusions and unusual potions and tinctures that line the shelves. Clad in a white jacket, the bartender can often be found grinding roots, herbs and spices grown on his family’s own plot of land, which add complexity to aromatic cocktails based on gin, whisky, absinthe and amaro.
14. Bar Trigona – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
With a menu focusing on indigenous and sustainable ingredients, Bar Trigona speaks to its setting beyond the gilded walls of its host Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian produce is a mainstay, from the wild turmeric harvested in Pahang, raw honey from the eponymous Trigona hives and tropical fruits from a Bangi organic farm.
13. Bar Mood – Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwanese bar supremo Nick Wu’s Bar Mood is a serious cocktail cove where the art of ingredient-focused Japanese bartending meets the speed and efficiency of American drink-making.
12. Sober Company – Shanghai, China
Three experiences make up this Shanghai destination, each as dumbfounding as the last at this ironically named bar. But it’s the Sober Society on the upper floor that attracts alcohol aficionados thanks to creative cocktails such as the Corpse Reviver (cognac, calvados, red vermouth, chichibu barrel smoke) and Sixty Forty (martini, Manhattan).
11. Vesper – Bangkok, Thailand
James Bond would approve of this suave Bangkok destination, which takes its name from the secret agent’s latterly choice of martini. The latest menu plays on the concept of contrasts, including cocktails such as Dirty & Clean, Deep & Shallow and Thai-Tai – the latter featuring Thai spices and herbs, ginger, citrus, lychee, egg white and Ketel One.
10. Aha Saloon – Taipei, Taiwan
At this music-themed hostelry, which first appeared on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list in 2019, stacks of old vinyl records and vintage cassettes sit alongside beakers containing spices, berries and seeds from around the world.
9. The SG Club – Tokyo, Japan
Emphasising a fusion of Japanese and American bartending styles, and incorporating unsung flavour combinations using ingredients from all over the world, The SG Club, which stands for “Sip” and “Guzzle”, claims two floors, with slightly different drinking experiences offered on each.
8. Manhattan – Singapore
Hued with warm tones, Manhattan’s grand lounge melds Old World glamour with luxe contemporary comfort via velvet armchairs, rich drapery, and mahogany tables. A fitting backdrop to drink down over 150 rare American whiskies or a solera-aged Negronis produced through the bar’s onsite rickhouse, which is the first for any hotel around the world.
7. The Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental – Bangkok, Thailand
Combining bamboo furniture, tiger skin prints and polished service, the room has an exotic, club-like feel. The sustainably focused menu, created by Artesian alumnus Jamie Rhind and rising-star bartender Pinsuda Pongprom, provides a liquid journey through the five regions of Thailand.
6. Native – Singapore
This Singapore destination, led by the visionary Vijay Mudaliar, takes its inspiration from the local and regional landscape, serving cocktails with foraged ingredients from jasmine blossom to turmeric leaves and sourcing its spirits from Asia only.
5. Atlas – Singapore
Since Atlas opened, it has made waves with its specialist gin collection, with more than 1,300 labels on offer. A legacy project of Hong Kong property magnate CS Hwang, the building was designed to mimic a grand hotel with a Great Gatsby-esque feel and is also home to some amazing art.
4. Indulge Experimental Bistro – Taipei, Taiwan
Indulge Experimental Bistro is now well and truly installed as a fully anointed member at the top table of Asia’s bar scene, having been named the Heering Legend of the List 2020. Aki Wang’s bar has an international feel but the details are an ode to Taiwan’s produce and heritage, only viewed through the lens of modern mixology.
3. Coa – Hong Kong, China
Jay Khan named his Hong Kong bar after the machete-like tool used for harvesting agave – the plant from which both mezcal and tequila are distilled. Coa pays homage to both spirits, offering the city’s largest agave collection, clocking in at around 200 bottles.
2. The Old Man – Hong Kong, China
Last year’s No.1 bar continues to set the pace for the continent’s cocktail scene. An abstract, geometric portrait of Ernest Hemingway assembled from surplus building materials leftover from The Old Man’s build three years ago casts a watchful eye over curious imbibers, who suck down drinks flavoured with lacto-fermented raspberry and beeswax-infused bourbon.
1. Jigger & Pony – Singapore
This bar’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric. In 2018 it entered the list for the first time. In 2019, it won the Highest Climber Award, moving 33 places up the ranking, and this year it swoops in to take the top award as The Best Bar in Asia 2020, sponsored by Perrier. Its fun-time ethos and relaxed style of hospitality is complemented by an excellent classic drinks list, as the bar goes about its business in a refreshingly old-school way.