Hong Kong nightlife: a beginner’s guide – the 16 best bars, clubs and pubs a newcomer needs to know
Chilled bars, sports bars, brew pubs, cocktail bars, live-music venues, mainstream clubs, alternative clubs, LGBTQ clubs – all the best places if you’re new to Hong Kong
So you’ve just arrived in Hong Kong and you’re looking for a drink. You’re in luck as that is one thing the city does well. But new arrivals often find it hard to know where to start, due to the sheer variety of venues on offer.
There’s a lot more to Hong Kong nightlife than the Lan Kwai Fong strip – from underground clubs to craft breweries, dive bars to live music joints. All you have to do is show up with an open wallet (and a high tolerance for alcohol).
This collaboration between Hong Kong brewery Young Master Ales and chef May Chow of Little Bao and Happy Paradise serves up an extensive list of draft brews, many of which are made right here in Hong Kong.
It’s set in a lovely, high-ceilinged space with a selection of endearingly vintage Hong Kong touches. The crowd is Tai Hang hipsters and the menu is fusion done right: the mapo burrata in particular ticks all the right boxes.
G/F, Little Tai Hang, 98 Tung Lo Wan Rd, Tai Hang, tel: 2656 0232
The large neon Chinese sign on the wall at 65 Peel reads “gweilo herbal tea” – a long-standing Cantonese term for beer, which is blessed with “cooling” properties in Asian food philosophy. At this stripped-back Peel Street bar, there’s a multi-page beer menu dedicated to Hong Kong’s craft brews, and the food is a leap above your regular bowl of peanuts – particularly the shrimp paste chicken wings and the deep-fried prawns.
65 Peel St, Central, tel: 2342 2224
PDT (Please Don’t Tell)
The Hong Kong outpost of PDT, aka Please Don’t Tell, is the legendary New York bar’s first permanent location outside of the Big Apple. Just like its sister bar, the entrance to PDT is hidden behind a phone booth for an extra touch of theatricality, which extends through to the taxidermied critters on the walls.
The drinks are a combination of classics from NYC such as the Mezcal Mule, and Hong Kong inventions including the Milky Tea Punch. The menu will rotate in partnership with a selection of chefs, but first up is a line-up of American comfort food classics from two-Michelin-star Amber restaurant’s Richard Ekkebus.
Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Rd Central, tel: 2132 0110
The Old Man
The Old Man is named for and inspired by Ernest Hemingway – a writer famed for his writing and his impressive booze intake alike. Owned and run by a triumvirate of the city’s best mixologists, all the cocktails at The Old Man are just HK$90 – a true bargain in Hong Kong.
Get the Death In The Afternoon, made with absinthe, sparkling wine and a coconut-pandan froth, or the Papa Doble – a daiquiri made dry as dust, just as Hemingway liked them.
LG/F 37-39 Aberdeen St, Central, tel: 2703 1899
Inn Side Out
Given that it’s hidden on the second floor of the South China Athletic Association, Inn Side Out is a more legitimate sports bar than most. With screens, multiple projectors and regular sports scheduling, as well as an extensive menu of beers and greasy comfort classics, it’s got most bases covered. And if there are no sports on, there’s always the view of little white balls whizzing out into the distance from the driving range below.
Officially, you have to be a member of the SCAA to drink at Inn Side Out. A HK$120 annual membership gives you access to the club’s sports facilities – but Inn Side Out gifts you a HK$150 voucher for the inconvenience.
2/F SCAA, 88 Caroline Hill Rd, Causeway Bay, tel: 2895 2900
Wan Chai is the spiritual home of the Hong Kong sports bar, and few do it better than Trafalgar. The English-style pub is equipped with eight TVs and two 120” outdoor projectors, as well as a pool table, darts machine and – in a true concession to American drinking culture – a beer pong table. But in a much more British fashion, Trafalgar also holds a well-regarded pub quiz every Tuesday.
5/F, 54-62 Lockhart Rd, The Broadway, Wan Chai, tel: 2110 1535
There’s live music almost every single night at this unassuming SoHo bar, making it one of the best bars in the city for those at a loose end on a weekday. The emphasis is mostly on jazz, although there are also regular rock and Canto-pop nights.
A monthly open mic sees some of the city’s best musicians show up to jam, so sign up if you’re a gifted amateur. It’s a small space – or “intimate” if you prefer – which brings performers and audience into remarkably close proximity: there’s about three feet from the stage to the seats.
49 Peel St, Central, tel: 2540 2046
Anyone who complains about the lack of good music in Hong Kong would do well to swing by the grungy institution that is The Wanch. Seven nights a week for the past 30 years, Hong Kong bands have taken to The Wanch’s tiny stage to rock their hearts out. It’s become a true bastion of live music in the city, and you’ll not find a warmer, more welcoming crowd in Hong Kong.
54 Jaffe Rd, Wan Chai, tel: 7212 9342
It’s been open since 2004, but Volar has managed to retain its rep as one of the city’s coolest clubs thanks to a regular influx of beautiful people, celebs and big-name international DJs.
This sprawling basement club has two different rooms, a comparative rarity in Hong Kong – one mostly spinning house, and the other mostly hip-hop. Things only get good in the early hours – don’t bother showing up before 3am.
B/F, 38-44 D’Aguilar St, Central, tel: 2810 1510
Australian designer Ashley Sutton has been conquering Hong Kong, one extravagant venue at a time. After bars Ophelia, the Iron Fairies and J.Boroski comes Yojimbo, his first club in the city. It’s a suitably over-the-top venue, inspired by underground Tokyo clubs with a side order of Tron-style neon.
Live performances from geisha-ed up models or katana-toting schoolgirls all add to the spectacle – as do the drinks, which are a step above the usual clubbing fare.
37 Pottinger St, Central, tel: 2576 1717
For Hong Kong clubbers, Oma sits on hallowed ground. This little spot off Pottinger Street has been home to a succession of the city’s best underground clubs: Phi-B, Yumla, Midnight & Co – and now Oma. The name changes, but the objective doesn’t: good music, good people.
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It’s a small, no-frills space with an oversized sound system and a chilled-out crowd who’s just there to dance. And dance they do, with music director Taku Hirayama serving up the city’s best techno, house and underground beats.
LB/F Harilela House, 79 Wyndham St, Central, tel: 2521 8815
Alternative clubs and music venues find life tough in Hong Kong. Crazy rents mean they struggle to stay in business – and that is if the authorities want them open at all. But Social Room bridges the worlds between mainstream and alternative.
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By day it’s available for corporate and private events and pop-ups – which allows it to stay open at night for its true calling, as a venue for underground DJs and even bands.
3/F Won Hing Building, 74-78 Stanley St, Central, tel: 2915 0373
Hong Kong’s newest gay bar is dripping with twinks, twunks, otters, bears, drag queens and every possible variety of gender-bending fun. This straight-friendly venue just off Wyndham Street is a potent antidote to the banker-heavy cluster just above it.
The weekly Wednesday night features DJs, topless bartenders and free-flow vodka from 11pm to midnight.
B/F 57-59 Wyndham St, Central, tel: 2808 2738
This long, narrow neighbourhood gay bar rocks a chilled-out industrial vibe. It’s more of a place for a conversation than for going hard into the early hours, but the drinks are good value – as is the slightly more mature crowd. Just like Club 71 next door (see below), patrons spill into the public garden outside.
B/F 65 Hollywood Rd (entrance on Man Hing Lane), Central, tel: 2332 6565
Tin Hau’s Forever Lounge is the kind of dive that you could never get away with in Central. It’s moodily dark, just the right side of dingy, and the beer comes cheap and in buckets. Between the clink of glasses, the rattle of dice games and the thwock of the electronic darts machine, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of true Hong Kong boozing.
G/F Kin Wah Mansion, 176-178 Causeway Rd, Tai Hang, tel: 2887 6543
This countercultural joint tucked away on a back lane in Central was originally located in the middle of Lan Kwai Fong and named Club 64 – a response to the bloody June 4, 1989, crackdown on Chinese student protesters in Tiananmen Square in the Chinese capital, Beijing. It’s long been a favourite of Hong Kong’s literati, artists, journos and activists.
The walls are daubed with art and bedecked with instruments, which patrons are prone to pulling from the walls for impromptu jam sessions. And if you’re in need of a breath of air (or a little less music), the expansive public sitting-out area outside has been co-opted by regulars into a kind of beer garden.
67 Hollywood Rd (Entrance on Man Hing Lane), Central, tel: 2858 7071