Bar review: I Know John in Central – low-key speakeasy with an eclectic range of drinks
High-end wine menu and complex cocktails paired with inexpensive street-style eats make for a menu that’s a bit all over the place. But still, the ambience is decidedly charming
The vibe: Another addition to the vogue for speakeasy style bars, I Know John (named after a famous “password” for access to real speakeasies in the Prohibition era) is hidden away on the ninth floor of The Loop on Wellington Street. It’s so discreet, it can take a while to spot the entrance (which looks like a rusty iron door) as you get out of the lift. Inside, the decor is equally stripped down, with an industrial look – concrete, bare wood and tiled pillars in muted grey-brown shades. The concept is more haven than hotspot – the music isn’t loud, seating is comfortable and service friendly.
The drinks: The original cocktails looked a bit daunting – I’m always wary of drinks with a laundry list of ingredients, many of which don’t seem to complement each other. However, the bartender was keen to convince us and when we took the plunge we were agreeably surprised.
The Spiced Tea Punch (HK$105, gin infused with ginger, chamomile and honey, guava puree, citrus juice and chamomile syrup) was fruity, refreshing, sweet without being sickly and with a nice zing from the guava and ginger. The Chorizo Milagro (HK$105, aged rum infused with chorizo and capers, dry sherry, moscato and bitters, maple syrup) sounded weird but turned out to be very pleasant. The mellowness of the rum contrasted neatly with the spiciness of the chorizo and, as the bartender had explained, the overall effect was reminiscent of a Negroni. An actual Negroni (HK$110) proved disappointing – made with Maraschino cherry instead of red vermouth, it was drinkable enough but the sweet and bitter elements weren’t sufficiently balanced.
We were left somewhat puzzled as to what kind of clients I Know John is aimed at. The ambience is low-key, there are casual, inexpensive eats (hot dogs a speciality) and cocktail prices aren’t high for Central, yet the wine list is packed with Bordeaux grands crus and malt whisky by the bottle at four- figure prices.
The verdict: A good spot for a quiet drink in a hectic area, I Know John is a professional operation in front of and behind the bar, but may need to develop a stronger identity.
9/F The Loop, 33 Wellington St, Central. Tel: 2801 6555
Open: Monday to Thursday, 6pm to midnight, Friday to Saturday, 6pm to 2am