Six of Hong Kong’s best upstairs bars, from Causeway Bay to Tsim Sha Tsui
The city’s upstairs bars have been elevated from nondescript holes in the wall in grimy buildings to upmarket havens in exclusive spots with great service and inspired drinks. Here’s a handful of the best
Hong Kong is facing another economic downturn, and the bars that keep our city’s workers hydrated are feeling the brunt of it. So what’s a drinker to do? Move on up, literally – some of the best new establishments are located in former office spots.
Upstairs bars aren’t exactly new, and for decades Hongkongers have shaken dice and downed cheap bucket beers in grimy old buildings. But the trend has changed recently, taking heavy inspiration from Japan, where the emphasis is on tuxedoed waiters, rare whiskies and incredible cocktails.
The high-rise advantages here are twofold: the lower rents mean the savings are often passed straight on to drinkers, while the hard-to-find locations make customers privy to exclusive spots far from the madding crowd. Let’s take things higher, as we scour rickety elevator shafts, dirty stairwells and the odd inconspicuous door, in search of Hong Kong’s best upstairs bars.
That massive four-lane crossing right outside Sogo on Hennessy Road isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find a hipper-than-thou upstairs bar. But that’s the beauty of the high-up movement, and Flat 61 is more hip than most. Perched atop an unassuming commercial building, it’s decked out like a secret Manhattan-style lounge, with the odd Hong Kong touch to truly make it feel like home.
The bartenders here keep it simple, with a small list of surprisingly affordable beers, mixed drinks and cocktails, while the comfy booths and free pool table are welcome respites from the heaving throngs below. Stop by on a weekday, when a mere HK$150 will get you a three-hour wine and cheese buffet from 6pm-9pm. As the night comes to a close, gaze out of its large windows overlooking all those desperate to catch their long bus ride home, and take comfort in the knowledge that your friends think you’re truly in the know.
13/F, Ying Kong Mansion, 2-6 Yee Wo St, Causeway Bay, 2504 0433, www.facebook.com/flat61
b.a.r. Executive Bar
Starting and ending your name with “bar” seems a little redundant – I mean, we get it, you’re a bar, no point in hammering it home. There’s probably a reason why this place starts with an acronym, but we couldn’t find one. It doesn’t really matter, though, as b.a.r. Executive Bar reveals itself to be one of the coolest on-high spots in town.
Drinking there is by appointment only, by the way, so no rocking up all willy-nilly, and the menu is dominated by whisky. Sure, you could order a sake martini or some kind of fruity cocktail, and they’ll happily make it for you, but the real reason to come here is for the incredible selection of whiskies. Scotch, Irish, American and of course Japanese, more than 150 varieties are on offer, from standards to much sought after rareties.
27/F, Bartlock Centre, 3 Yiu Wa St, Causeway Bay, 2893 2080, www.executivebar-com-hk.blogspot.hk
Remember when everyone claimed Tai Hang was the next thing in nightlife? Well, that never quite took off, and the recent downturn has taken a huge toll on the area, with everything from an oft-frequented American tap room to decades-old local spots shutting up. But fret not – a short walk back to Tin Hau offers a new breed of bars.
Leading the charge is upstairs spot AnOther Place, even though it’s not exactly a bar, touting itself rather as a private kitchen by Michelin-starred chef David Myers. But with multiple rooms measuring 2,000 square feet, views overlooking Kowloon Bay and frequent live music performances, it’s the best non-bar “bar” the city’s currently hiding. Experience it on the monthly jazz & blues nights, when you can take advantage of its BYO policy with some cheap supermarket wine, park yourself on a comfy leather sofa and wait out the inevitable claims that this time, it’s all about Tin Hau.
5/F, Block C, Sea View Estate, 2-8 Watson Road, Tin Hau, 2979 0064, www.anotherplace.com.hk
Mizunara: The Library
Just past the girlie bars, up a cramped elevator and down a grimy corridor sits Mizunara: The Library. The bar’s subtitle doesn’t seem to make much sense on first entrance. It’s only once you take in the incredible liquor selection – more than 600 varieties – and the generally hushed, almost reverent tone, that the “library” begins to reveal itself.
Another place with a thoroughly Japanese vibe, Mizunara’s focus is on a unique range of clever cocktails – think contemporary twists on such classics as the vodka martini and the old-fashioned. And while it’s far from cheap, with a minimum spend of HK$400 per person, you do get one rare added benefit: a spacious outdoor terrace, the ideal escape on these balmy pre-summer days to pair that well crafted alcoholic concoction with a fine cigar.
4/F, Kiu Yin Building, 361-363 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, 3571 9797, www.mizunarathelibrary.com
Causeway Bay and the surrounding area are generally regarded as the birthplace of Hong Kong’s upstairs-bar trend, and with four of the five spots on our list in or around that district, it’s little surprise why. But upstairs bars are starting to appear in Tsim Sha Tsui, and here we’re offering up a double-header: incredibly popular Butler and its lesser known neighbour, Bar Buonasera.
Both are in the same unassuming Mody Road commercial building, both are Japanese run, both heavy on old-school cocktails, and both cool, cosy affairs where the customer comes first. Each has its own particular charm: Butler’s owner is a master mixologist who claims to know more than 3,000 cocktails by heart, while Buonasera is an offshoot of the famed Osaka whisky bar of the same name. The question here isn’t so much which one is better, but which you’ll actually get a seat in, with each packed with ardent fans on any given night.
Butler: 5/F Mody House 30 Mody Road Tsim Sha Tsui, 2724 3828, no website
Bar Buonasera: 7/F, Mody House, 30 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2111 4444, www.facebook.com/buonaserahk