Bar review: The Old Man, Central – raise a glass to Hemingway, the thinking man’s drinker
Imaginative cocktails, impressive interiors and great value make this the perfect place to pay tribute to the legendary writer
The vibe: A tribute to Ernest Hemingway who is now as famous for what he drank as for what he wrote. A mosaic portrait of the great man, artfully assembled from construction waste, looks down over a bar designed like a teppanyaki counter, with a metal chiller strip to keep your drinks cool running down the middle.
Customers are welcome to wander behind the bar and look over the bartender’s shoulder. The room is like a library with both bottles and books on shelves either side of the bar counter.
Partners Agung Prabowo, James Tamang and Roman Ghale encourage customers to chat to each other, and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. It’s not that easy to find, but the staff of the Japanese restaurant at No. 39 appear to have become used to issuing directions.
The drinks: Prabowo is famous for having got The Lobster Bar at the Island Shangri-La into the The World’s 50 Best Bars list, and more recently spruced up the bar and beverage programme at the Mandarin Oriental. He continues in the same vein here with his Hemingway-inspired cocktails, but at a rather lower price than his former employers were asking. Everything on the list is HK$90 plus 10 per cent.
Sous-vide ingredients are prepared fresh each day, and The Sun Also Rises is a spicy mixture of coconut-oil-washed applejack, gin infused with curry leaves, sweet vermouth prepared sous-vide with pandan leaves, and kaffir lime. Islands In The Stream is a refreshing combination of clarified pink grapefruit and salted gin.
Death In The Afternoon features a favourite Prabowo combination of absinthe and sparkling wine, with coco-pandan yogurt froth and nutmeg. The Snows Of Kilimanjaro is an unlikely but enjoyable blend of marshmallow-flavoured gin, lacto-fermented raspberry, citrus and Gruyère cheese.
Seven of the cocktails are named after Hemingway books, and two after nicknames for the Old Man himself – Papa Doble and Little Wax Puppy. Papa Doble is a Daiquiri made dry, the way Hemingway liked it, with the rum prepared sous-vide with pineapple, and the maraschino sous-vide with jalapeño.
Customers are also encouraged to ask for any of the Old Man’s other favourite drinks, which include Negronis and Whisky Highballs.
The verdict: Great drinks and great value. Not surprisingly the place is already very popular. Get there early if you want to be sure of a seat at the bar.
The Old Man, 37 Aberdeen Street, Central, tel: 2703 1899
Open: Monday to Saturday 5pm-2am
Happy hour: none