How we did it

Asia's 50 Best Bars editor Hamish Smith explains how we created the list

In short, Asia’s 50 Best Bars is: By Asia, For Asia. But let’s elaborate. We started from the position that not even the most intrepid of global bar hoppers knows Asian bars better than the people of Asia. So, unlike the World’s 50 Best Bars, which draws on the globetrotter’s perspective, Asia’s 50 Best Bars is what Asia thinks are its best bars.

So who in Asia votes? This is the important bit. If you get the voters right, you get the 50 right. You cannot separate the two. So we’ve been to great lengths to travel, network and rub shoulders with the movers and shakers of Asia’s bar world. We reckon the 154 Asian Academy members who voted in this poll are the most knowledgeable and travelled members of the Asian bar industry.

Just under half of the new Asian Academy voted in the World’s 50 Best Bars last summer. The newcomers we have met in person and some are recommendations from trusted existing Academy members.  Ideally every country in Asia would contribute voters but in reality, there’s not much of a scene in North Korea (and a few other countries). Including voters from underdeveloped bar scenes, might tick some boxes and look great on paper, but we’d be watering-down the credibility of the poll.  So we drew up a shortlist of the countries and cities from which we should include voters. We decided on 14 countries and a few dozen cities. To qualify to vote, Academy members must travel regularly within Asia and must fall into one of the following: 

High-level bartenders, who appreciate what makes a great bar and work in one. 

Bar consultants, expats or local experts who are behind the best new venues. 

Brand ambassadors, who travel more than anyone in the bar business. 

Journalists, because it’s good to have the view from the drinking side of the bar while maintaining industry perspective.  

Cultural Connections

As we divide up the World’s 50 Best Bars Academy into regions, we subdivided Asia into three broad areas that share some cultural or geographical connection and/or movement patterns. So the Far East subregion comprises South Korea, Japan, drawing a line south to the Philippines and Indonesia. China & Border Markets consists of mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The third subregion, South Asia, starts in India, and travels east to Thailand, Cambodia, as far east as Vietnam and as far south as Singapore and Malaysia. This sub-region comprises a few more countries than the other two, but the likes of Cambodia and Vietnam are still in the early stages of their development, so couldn’t contribute many voters. While the Middle East is technically Asia, at World’s 50 Best Bars HQ we take a market approach, so the likes of Dubai, Israel et al would fall under Africa & The Middle East – a poll for another day.

Each of the 154 Asian Academy members were asked to rank the five best bars in Asia in their professional opinion. They had to vote for bars they had visited in the past 18 months, that are still open (bars do sometimes close) and bars in which they have no financial interest. They could vote for any bar in the following Asian countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China (including Macau and Hong Kong), East Timor, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Two of each member’s five votes had to be for bars outside of their country of work to maintain the pan-Asian emphasis of the list. You might think Academy members would always vote for the maximum three bars allowed from their home market, but that’s not the case. Many voted for three to four wider-Asian bars, and some didn’t think the best bars in Asia were in their home market at all.

As with the World’s 50 Best Bars, we choose not to define what a ‘best bar’ is – it’s subjective. So rather than influencing the vote with a list of criteria, we want uninfluenced professional opinions on what the best might be. We’ve found from the global poll that this broad question generates a greater diversity of answers. From cocktail bars in large hotels to backstreet speakeasies, to tiki places, whisky bars and venues that major on wine and beer. It’s a big mix of venues in Asia’s 50 Best Bars. 

The Academy voted for 215 bars in total. We simply took the 50 with the most votes and created a list which, if you haven’t seen already, can be found here. 

Drinks International