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Art Basel 2016

5 cool hidden Hong Kong bars for the Art Basel crowd to discover

For a whiff of exclusivity and a place to meet away from the crowds, visitors can sample the city’s latest nightlife trend – the hidden bar (handy map provided)

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2016, 1:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2016, 12:36am

On a regular weekend, Hong Kong’s bar districts are among the busiest in the world. On an Art Basel weekend, they become a different beast altogether, the streets more densely packed than usual as creative types spill out of bars. But wait: the art crowd has somewhere to escape from

the masses: a new type of bar has emerged, ones hidden away from the everyday crowds and where exclusivity is key. While many new Hong Kong nightspots have sought to jump on the trend (advertising yourself as “hidden” is just oxymoronic), only a select few live up to the billing. Here we pull back the curtain on the city’s best secret bars.

Foxglove

The owners of Foxglove are nothing if not ambitious: their Mrs Pound eatery in Sheung Wan was a groundbreaker in a city where “hidden” often meant “upstairs”. This restaurant hidden behind a stamp shop façade eventually became the worst-kept secret in Hong Kong. But after its clandestine success, the team have branched out with the obvious next step: a bar in Central.

Once again disguised behind a fake storefront, this time a thoroughly Anglophile umbrella shop, Foxglove is a loving tribute to its Duddell Street location’s colonial past, absolutely screaming exclusivity through its 1950s-style first-class cabin design. Everything else, from its modern takes on prohibition-era cocktails to the refined British bites and the live international jazz nearly every night of the week, has been brilliantly put together. It’s the ideal spot to indulge in your retro-artistic side – as long as you can find the entrance.

2/F Printing House, 6 Duddell St, Central, tel: 2116 8949; foxglovehk.com

Lan Fong Yuen

For many Hongkongers, Lan Fong Yuen’s dishes are a staple, with the humble diner serving up milk tea, noodle bowls, club sandwiches and other East-West favourites from its tiny Gage Street stall. But after nearly six decades, the renowned restaurant decided it wasn’t simply satisfied with greasy eats, recently branching out into the peculiar world of hidden bars.

Behind Gage Street’s characteristic green metal stalls, the bar of the same name is a loving tribute to old Hong Kong, a space for those in the know where classic colonial remnants are displayed in a rusty, industrial-like setting. Drinks range from classic whiskeys to clever cocktails, and the place is probably the only hidden spot in the city tapping into the soon-to-be-diluted “one country, two systems” zeitgeist. Just don’t order a pantyhose milk tea – that’s strictly at the eatery.

6 Gage Street, Central, no phone or website

High Line

From the outside, Street Meat looks like another of the super hip Brooklyn-style restaurants that are becoming so popular among creative types. And for the most part, it is – but stride your way past its bearded crowds, knock on the tucked-away service door at the back, and a whole new world emerges.

This is High Line, a jarringly high-end secret cocktail bar where moody lighting, retro neon signs and a cool outdoor terrace all combine for a vintage-themed escape from the masses. The speakeasy’s speciality is cocktail pairings – think drinks inspired by and matched with luxury scents – but the eccentric barman will be happy to whip you up one of this home-made concoctions, the kind he guarantees you won’t find anywhere else. Ditch the hipster bites outside, we say, and make your way straight to the good stuff.

50 Wyndham St, Central (behind Street Meat), no phone or website

 

Back Bar

It’s a little depressing that out of all the hidden bars on this list, there is only one spot located away from the heaving crowds of Central. But it makes sense: nearly every other Hong Kong district has room to breathe – except, of course, for the tightly packed alleys around Star Street in Wan Chai.

Back Bar is the mirror opposite of the popular Jason Atherton restaurant Ham & Sherry – and while the crowds invariably line up night after night to sample the famed chef’s simple tapas, you can escape the hungry masses and watch it all unfold next door. A tinted two-way mirror at the rear of the bar means you can gaze voyeuristically through the looking glass to the restaurant, while sampling one of its fine cocktails, each inspired by a different country. For the famished few, you can even one-up the hordes by ordering from the very same restaurant menu at the bar. We recommend the ham croquetas.

1-7 Ship St, Wan Chai (behind Ham & Sherry), tel: 2555 0628; hamandsherry.hk

Lan Kwai Lau

Of all the places to conceal a secret bar, you’d think Hong Kong’s busiest bar district would be about the worst. But the owners of Lan Kwai Lau are masters of the art of hiding in plain sight. Their Lan Kwai Fong-located bar is far from new – it’s been around for at least three years – but is there any truer testament to a speakeasy’s secret stature than the fact that hardly anyone knows about it?

Located just a few doors down from a 7-Eleven on LKF’s main artery, Lan Kwai Lau can be identified by the stag’s head sticking out above an inconspicuous black door. Once you gain entry, the bar is like entering the fireside library of a manor house, where large leather chairs, dark wood furnishings and a healthy whisky selection all make for a Hong Kong experience unlike any other.

B/F, 2 Lan Kwai Fong, Central, no phone or website