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Hong Kong's Best Bars: Where to Make Friends While under the Influence



Whether it's on a corner of a city street, the cornerstone of a swish hotel, a few tables and a fridge on a beach, or a mock English pub, Hong Kong's got bars for all seasons. Alcohol (although there are plenty of fruit juices and the like on offer too) lubricates many of the city's business and social discussions, and most parts of Hong Kong host some sort of drinking establishment.

The biggest concentration is on Hong Kong Island, in the nightlife area of Lan Kwai Fong and then stretching away through the areas of SoHo and NoHo, where it would be difficult to take more than a dozen paces without passing some sort of bar. Why so many? Well, Hong Kong works hard, and likes to wind down. 

Best of all, there are bars to suit all pockets and moods. Up for a high octane celebration? Head for Ozone, the highest bar in the world. Just fancy chilling by the sea? China Bear is the answer. Need a traditional English pub? Nobody turns a blind eye to Trafalgar. And – given that there are few restrictions on appropriate times to serve alcohol – if you're in Hong Kong right at this moment there's probably a bar that's open not too far away.


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121 BC
Photo courtesy of 121BC


First of all – enjoy the location. 121 could only be in Hong Kong. It's on a steep street that's dotted with traditional shops and just down the road from an incense-swathed shrine, yet well within the trendy entertainment zone that is SoHo. Secondly, enjoy the bar itself, with as fine a selection of Italian wine as you'll find east of Brindisi. Sommelier Giorgio De Maria travels to vineyards where he meets with producers and sources artisan, minimal interventionist wines. There is always a variety by the glass to taste from the burgeoning collection, and there are some fine back vintages, like the 1943 Borgogno Barolo, which display the work of masterful producers.


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Wan Chai
Trafalgar
Photo courtesy of Trafalgar


From Adnams Broadside to Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin via Fuller's London Porter and Thwaites Liberation Premium Ale, Trafalgar runs the gamut of Brit beers. And quite a lot of other traditional drinks including single malt whiskey and cider as well. Pukka pub that it is, there are one or two cosmopolitan quirks, such as the shisha pipes and the karaoke room. And as it's on the fifth floor there's an outdoor balcony rather than a garden, which is popular with smokers. Naturally, Trafalgar attracts the sort of customer that might be expected, but the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming wherever you hail from.


Tazmania Ballroom
Photo courtesy of Tazmania Ballroom


Get ready to be amazed, even if only slightly. Tazmania Ballroom is a dance club, for sure, but added to that is a lounge and – gasp – games. Twice a week, thanks to some ingenious hi-tech design, the billiards tables are hoisted out of the way to make room for ping pong tables. Seriously. For the rest of the week, Tazmania Ballroom is all out cool sounds, cool drinks and a cool crowd. Owned by one of the city's foremost socialites, Tazmania Ballroom attracts a hip group of folk, who take their partying – and their drinking – very seriously. Right in the heart of Central, this is a place to go for fun.


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Feather Boa
Photo courtesy of Feather Boa


Some of Hong Kong's coolest hangouts aren't easy to identify from the outside, and Feather Boa is a good example. There's no sign, so you'll have to look carefully. Once past the curtained doors, you'll find an eclectic space furnished with the leftovers from an antique shop that used to occupy the room. The clientele tends to consist mostly of fashionable arty types, although the suit-clad post-work crowd is thick on weekdays. Drinks of choice are whiskey-based cocktails and daiquiris. Few people going here for the first time know quite what to expect, and they certainly won't forget the experience!


The China Bear
Photo courtesy of China Bear


The China Bear's the best pub on Lantau. There again, it's almost the only pub on Lantau outside the expat enclave of Discovery Bay. Such quibbling is beside the point, for the Bear – right next to the ferry pier with a view that stretches all the way to Hong Kong Island – is an institution. This is very much a locals' hangout, with darts, quiz nights, plenty of brews on tap and a fair bit of banter going back and forth. Sit outside (assuming the weather is cooperating) and soak up the island atmosphere. And like most bars and pubs nowadays, the Bear does food too.


Ned Kelly's Last Stand


A traditional jazz band takes the stage nightly at Ned Kelly's, which also offers a lively ambiance and a good selection of classic pub food. The club has happy hour specials and an Australian menu that showcases culinary favorites like meat pie and mashed potatoes with onion gravy. The noise levels are pretty high, but this is all part of the fun at Ned Kelly's. It's a great favorite with long-term Hong Kong residents, and many regular visitors make this a definite must every time they come to Hong Kong. A good 30 years since it first opened, this is a Hong Kong classic.


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Central


The Landmark Mandarin Oriental's MO Bar is one of the most sophisticated and nightlife hangout on Hong Kong Island. The two-story space was created with amazing attention to detail. Textures abound, from the floor (stone, mosaic tiles, carpet) to the walls (leather upholstery, metal, wood) to the furnishings (velvet, leather, wood). There are glass water walls, sculptural metal fixtures and walnut window shades, and the whole is done in classy earth tones. As a hotel bar, MO carries a wide selection of alcohol or non-alcohol drinks from every corner of the world. DJs spin sounds from Wednesday to Saturday, and occasionally celebrities such as Kelly Clarkson and Alicia Keys will host mini concert here.


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Tsim Sha Tsui
Felix
Photo courtesy of The Peninsula


The Peninsula bar is one of the classiest places in Hong Kong to get a drink and enjoy top-notch service while taking in the glittering harbour and stunning skyline. Opened in 1994, it was a forerunner of Hong Kong's ever-growing harbor-view bars. Situated on the 28th floor of the five-star hotel, the bar is part of fine-dining restaurant of the same name. The sophisticated space contains four sections from a wine bar to a sound-proof dance floor. The artistic and abstract interior is created by French celebrity designer Philip Starck, whose naughty but wonderful concept is still cutting-edge almost 20 years later. Just as important as the cocktails and the view is a trip to the men's bathroom. Gents will find themselves standing in front of a floor-to-ceiling glass wall overlooking Kowloon streets while putting the urinals to good use. This is partially what makes the bar so popular in Hong Kong.


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Wan Chai


Having been feeding the locals with mind-bending gigs for more than 25 years, The Wanch is an institution of live music. This is said to be the longest running livehouse in Hong Kong. Shows are on every night from 6pm on weekdays and 4pm at weekends at this thriving space in Wan Chai. Local bands and international acts pump out various music genres from rock to jazz to blues. The bar offers nibbles including garlic bread and bacon butties. No cover charge any day of the week. At weekends the crowd usually spills out onto the sidewalk – expect maximum decibels.




Perching on the highest floor of the world's highest hotel overlooking a skyscraper city, Ozone is an experience not to be found elsewhere. Occupying the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, the sleek and futurist-looking space is connected to the real world by a lift that moves as fast as nine meters a second. Try the martinis, they are some of the best in town. Of course, the view is the jewel in the crown. On a good day, visitors can have a near bird's-eye-view of Victoria Harbour, Kowloon, New Territories and outlying islands. The buzzing metropolis looks like a Lego city from almost half a kilometer in the air. To enhance the top-of-the-world feeling, head to the bar's roofless semi-outdoor seating area that lets you see and breathe above the city.


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Meet Ed Peters

Ed Peters has been based in Asia for much of his life.

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