Under the numbers
If we’d run a book ahead of Asia’s 50 Best Bars poll, Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong would have been the heavy favourites. And so it played out.
These three bar hubs of Asia make up just over half the bars on the list, with Singapore and Hong Kong tallying nine of the 50 each and Tokyo with eight. So which can we say is the bar capital of Asia? Well, we make it that Singapore just about wins on points. The city-country has a total of four of the top 10 bars and six of the top 20. Not to mention it is home to the winner of Asia’s 50 Best Bars, 28 Hongkong Street.
One in three of our 154 Academy members voted for this bar as one of their top five in the region – a dominance even more considerable than Artesian’s in the World’s 50 Best Bars 2015, which saw the London bar take one quarter of the vote. 28 Hongkong Street is an emblem of the region – a benchmark of quality across drinks and hospitality. Asian Academy members appreciate what this bar and its mother company, Proof & Company, have done for the Asian scene and voted in their droves.
Hong Kong, also with nine bars in the list, is equal to Singapore on numbers but has only two in the top 10 and three in the top 20, so has to make do with second place. Led by World’s 50 Best Bars 2015 members Lobster Bar & Grill at the Shangri-la, which finished fourth, and Quinary sixth, plus another seven bars dotted throughout the list, no one can say Hong Kong is still emerging – it has fully emerged.
Depth and Diversity
Tokyo’s eight bars are even further spread around the 50, with only one in the top 20. But that one bar was third-placed High Five, and looking through its other representatives, strength in depth and diversity is undeniable. Tokyo is one of the old wise men of the Asian bar landscape – it has its own style, chiselled through the centuries, whereas Singapore and Hong Kong tend to borrow more from the western doctrine. But Tokyo is not living in the past – indeed, many of the bars listed are new to the scene. With this mix of tradition and innovation it would be a surprise to no one if it was the Asian capital of cocktails next year.
Finishing in fourth, Bangkok was something of a surprise. If we had predicted any city to challenge the Big Three it would have been Shanghai. But Bangkok has to be the most rapidly developing bar culture in Asia – we probably didn’t know to what extent until it was confirmed by having six bars on the list.
Bangkok’s people have a serious case of cocktail fever and, with the number of international ’tenders setting up in the city and locals opening up their own places, it is only going in one direction from here. What Bangkok doesn’t have yet is a flagship bar. While each of the top-three bar cities have a top-four bar to plant their flag on, Bangkok’s top-ranked bar, Vesper, finished 17th, with its other five representatives appearing in the bottom half of the list.
Taipei and Seoul, with four bars apiece, have strong presence in the list but, like Bangkok, all were outside of the top 10. As these cities’ reputations develop from havens of whisky bars to cocktail bars (that also sell a great deal of whisky) they will shoot up the itinerary list for any Asian traveller.
With three bars in the list, Shanghai is mainland China’s major bar-life city. If we’re honest, we expected more venues from Shanghai to appear. In the past few years its cocktail scene has grown quicker than its skyscrapers. Not so long ago Constellation was about the only place to find good drinks in the city outside of hotel bars, but recently bar culture has enlivened. Speak Low, as the number two bar in our list, is a strong contender for the crown next year, after running the favourite 28 Hongkong Street closer than anyone would have thought possible. Speak Low may not have featured in the World’s 50 Best Bars 2015, but it is the story of Asia’s 50 Best Bars. It has a great name in Shanghai, but the surprise was its Asia-wide appeal, particularly in Japan, for which Shingo Gokan is a bartending hero. And, with the likes of new bar Union Trading Company and old favourite Constellation, supporting from behind, there is a solid base for Shanghai to build on in next year’s list.
We weren’t sure what to expect from Jakarta, Manila and Kuala Lumpur. Clearly Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia have what we might refer to as emerging ‘cocktail classes’ (Drinks International definition: middle-to-high income, liberal-minded, aspirational drinkers) and we had heard there were flickers of life, but you never know until the results are in. To have five bars from these three cities is proof there is less of a flicker, more of a flame. Two bars from Manila, ABV and The Curator have put their city on the map. Indeed, it could have been three bars from the Philippine capital had Blind Pig got just one more vote (see Bars to Watch page 33).
Jakarta can thank Union Group, which operates two of the bars that made the list: Loewy and Union Brasserie, Bakery & Bar. These two Indonesian bars were almost joined by a bevy of Bali bars which, in the end, fell just short of the 50. Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia only contributed one bar, but Omakase + Appreciate making the top 10 has to be one of the highlights of the list.
Also represented by one bar is Beijing, with Janes & Hooch and TCRC from Tainan in the south of Taiwan, which has to be the least-known city featured.
In all, 12 cities were represented from 10 countries (counting Hong Kong separately to China) – a good spread across Asia’s major destinations and proof that great bars are not just the domain of Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong.