A look back at the most notable Asian openings to grace our pages in the last 12 months.
So much activity, so many doors opening – but can you remember them all? As part of our Sixteen From 2016 review of what’s happened in the Asian bar industry over the past year, today we’re taking a look at the new venues that appeared on our pages (print or online) over the past 12 months. This is not an exhaustive list. Indeed there were disagreements among our writers. Instead – and in no particular order – it’s a snapshot of the bars that were, first up, notable enough for us to write about, and second, that we’ve selected here because they’re the ones we think will continue to be talked about in years to come. (Please note that some of these bars may have first welcomed guests in 2015 but only featured as new openings in DRiNK in 2016.)
The Cannery, Shanghai
The Nest has been a Shanghai staple since it opened its doors, but it now has a rival to the gastrolounge crown in the form of its own sister venue The Cannery. Only opening in the middle of the year, the Canada-centric concept has become a fast favourite, soaking up customers in the west of the city. Sibling rivalry? You bet.
Employees Only, Singapore
One of New York’s finest decided to expand outside the Big Apple for the first time – and landed in Singapore. Co-founder Igor Hadzismajlovic brought along principal bartender Steve Schneider and drink-slinger Owen Gibler for the ride, with general manager Eric Lincoln and chef Julia Jaksic helping out get the place up and running. Packed ever since.
VEA, Hong Kong
Although first opened at the end of 2015, we wrote about VEA at the start of the year. It’s the latest from Antonio Lai’s Tastings Group, already home to some of the biggest name bars in Hong Kong, and is a collaboration between Lai and chef Vicky Cheng, combining her kitchen creations with a cocktail-pairing menu to great effect – and pushing an already diverse scene in even more innovative directions.
East End, Taipei
In East End, Taipei drinkers got a hotel bar with a difference. Not every bar can call in Ueno-san as a consultant, but that’s what Nick Wu did for the hidden spot that has quickly become one of the best in a town whose cocktail game is already very strong.
Qui, Ho Chi Minh
Not the first cocktail bar in the city by any stretch, but an important new opening from Trinh Lai’s Vise group that helps bring global drink-making trends and techniques up to date in Vietnam. Combine with bold interiors and world-class bar stations and we expect this joint to be even more talked-about in 2017.
Post-speakeasy, post-KTV, post-truth. You could study Nick Haas’s Skinny’s as an important milestone in contemporary cocktail culture’s gradual separation from its self-serious last decade. Or as an ironic 2016 re-boot of the popular Singapore pub KTV. Or you could just head there for a beer and a shot.
The minds behind jazz favourite Heyday got loose with their new supperclub, a concept that has changed the nightlife landscape in Shanghai. The live band are front and centre at this one-stop shop – dinner, drinks and dancing – that is all about funk and sweet soul music.
A singles bar from Lee Watson. Hold the jokes about hoping to double up, there’s nothing sleazy about this new cocktail joint – just a grown-up place with an emphasis on hospitality that adds another layer to the blossoming Manila f&b scene. Make mine a triple.
Elbow Room, Phnom Penh
It was a big year for the diminutive cocktail scene in Phnom Penh. First came Le Boutier, which has since been joined by Andre Chalson’s Elbow Room, where drink-slinger Jen Queen reigns supreme. Both are clustered around Street 308, BKK1, in what is becoming the hippest corner of a quietly cool city.
Potato Head successfully stepped into HK this year with three concepts in one, but we think it was the bar the group opened at its stunning new Katamama hotel in Bali that deserves attention. Staying faithful to the brand’s promotion of Indonesian culture and exacting attention to detail, look out for locally made ceramic cups, island ingredients and an absolutely unique infused arak program.
Hope & Sesame, Guangzhou
The Ali Baba reference is fitting for the riches that can be found beyond the back of a local Guangdong iced desserts store. Aside from the super-cool speakeasy schtick, what happens behind the stick – thanks to Bastien Ciocca, Andrew Ho and team – is a real milestone for the city’s cocktail landscape.
The Other Room, Singpore
Dario Knox’s secretive drinking den off the lobby of the Marriott Tang Plaza has built its impressively fast popularity off an innovative barrel-finished spirits program, aged cocktails boasting Knox’s own collection of rare, vintage vermouth and finally a hard-to-come-by late licence. His big smile and a crowd-pleasing soundtrack help.
Frankie Zou’s long-awaited opening arrived fittingly without fanfare. No matter; Zou’s trademark attention to detail, fastidiousness and carefully considered creativity have created one of the capital’s most avant-garde cocktail bars and one that truly embraces its concept.
Opening in March, this multi-level restaurant and bar takes its wine, beer and cocktail lists seriously, and with ex-Death & Co chef Arnold Marcella in the kitchen, the beverage DNA is complete. Bangkok has proved willing to drop good money on proper drinking in recent years and Bunker continues the evolution.
Case Study, Kuala Lumpur
Drink-making in Kuala Lumpur has been raised in 2016, with newcomers such as Shelley Yu’s and now Case Study pushing boundaries. The latter comes courtesy of two returning Malaysians, Alvin Auyong and Joel Poon, who worked together in Singapore at The Library. Emoji-inspired menus, unconventional vessels, daring flavours and a post-speakeasy aesthetic get our vote.
Just opened, but on concept alone – spirits and ingredients sourced entirely from the region – already demands a spot on this list. Owner Vijay Mudaliar’s mission isn’t going to be easy, but we think Native will be part of a growing tide of support for Asian craft spirits through 2017.
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