The world's best bars: Asia-Pacific

Quintessential drinking experiences in East Asia and Australia – local bars the locals love…

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  • Beijing, China

    A jar of Honey Ma Gold beer at Great Leap Brewing

    A US brew laced with honey from the Great Wall and peppercorns from distant Sichuan province, Great Leap Brewing’s sweet-yet-fiery Honey Ma Gold is Beijing in a glass: a mix of old Eastern ingredients and modern Western techniques, enormously attractive to hipsters and, thanks to Great Leap’s location, intimately tied to the city’s winding hutong alleys. Plus it’s enormously alcoholic, just like a sizeable chunk of the city’s foreign population…

    The bustling, tat-filled storefronts of Nanluoguxiang have made the street a magnet for tourists from around the world. But push past the glowing façades and into the knot of alleys down Jongying Hutong and you’ll find one of Beijing’s most idiosyncratic – but influential – beery haunts. Opened in 2010, Great Leap Brewing wasn’t the first place in Beijing to offer microbrewed beers in the city, but it did spark off a craze for home-brewing that has seen amateur hop-heads crafting ales all over the city.

    Not that the pints served up at Great Leap are anything less than professional quality. Whether you’re sipping the sweetly malty Pale Ale #6 or the moreishly bitter Danshan Wheat – made with black tea from Danshan – you’re all but guaranteed high times (and a high ABV). They’re not cheap (the menu declines to list prices for a reason) but these are beers to be savoured anyway, not knocked back in a boozy rush. Indeed, such is the bar’s success with ale connoisseurs that founder Carl Setzer has even started hosting ‘how to brew’ classes (pictured).

    It’s the setting that completes the package, though. Surrounded by 8ft-high walls, dotted with trees and tables and thankfully equipped with a mosquito zapper, Great Leap’s courtyard – located on Doujiao Hutong, down the west end of Jongying Hutong – is a great place to while away the summer. And while it’s a little less inviting in the colder months, the warmly friendly staff (well, save for Setzer, a man who’s in love with beer alone and seems to regard customers as a necessary evil) and comfy couches make the tiny interior space a fine place to hide as it gets colder. James Wilkinson, editor, Time Out Beijing (English edition)

    Great Leap Brewing, 6 Doujiao Hutong, off Dianmenwai Dajie, Dongcheng, Beijing, China. +86 10 5717 1399. www.greatleapbrewing.com


    Discover the best bars and nightlife in Beijing



    Picture by Chen Chao

    Beijing, China
  • Melbourne, Australia

    An 'Americano' at Bar Americano

    In a city of hidden-behind-a-dumpster small bars, where coffee and classic cocktails rule, sipping an Americano (Campari and sweet vermouth with a splash of soda) in a standing-room-only cocktail-cum-espresso bar is Melbourne in a bonsai nutshell.

    Well, damned if this isn't the sharpest tiny bar Melbourne's ever seen. There are three seats at the bar (there’s no room for any more) and about enough space for ten more people who don't use their elbows much to squash in and lean against the slender wooden ledge that runs the room. First come, first served; no exceptions. There's a toilet, but only just, and you get the feeling that if they could've added a couple of extra metres to the room and had people relieve themselves outside Barcelona-style, it would've happened. 

    But we digress. Bar Americano, if you can get in, is Melbourne’s definitive small bar. A proper Italian-style joint, where you can get an Americano (as in a long black), an 'Americano' (as in the aforementioned cocktail) and an 'Old Pal' (that's rye, sweet vermouth and Campari in the international language of tasty drinks). The short cocktail list is displayed on a felt pinboard, complete with vintage white lettering. 

    It's a beautiful, tiny place with black-and-white tiles on the floor, lots of polished wood and an idiosyncratic back bar on which the bartenders refuse to stock vodka. Go late or go early and don't take your mum – this one's for the staunch of heart who don't mind the wait in a full bar. Myffy Rigby, Food & Drink editor, Time Out Australia

    Bar Americano, 20 Presgrave Place, Melbourne, Australia. +61 (0)3 9428 0055. www.baramericano.com


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    Picture by Time Out Sydney

    Melbourne, Australia
  • Hong Kong, China

    A 'Red Sky Colour' at Sugar

    With its commanding city views, Sugar is already proving popular among the Island East business crowd, who have long been starved of decent drinking holes. But it's more than accessible for the hoi polloi as well – and is set to become a popular outcrop on Hong Kong’s drinking scene.

    Occupying the entire 32nd floor of the upscale hotel EAST is Sugar, an undeniably cool space that sells itself as a ‘bar + deck + lounge’, with phenomenal views across the city. To the north are the bright lights of Kwun Tong, with the vista swinging uninterrupted to the North Point skyline in the west, and out over the island’s often building-obstructed east. And from the outdoor deck you can see Quarry Bay extend toward Tai Tam Country Park. The bar's interior has been smartly designed to maximise the views. Ottomans and couches flow over three tiers; Sugar feels casual by day, a sexy futuristic capsule saturated with jazzy house beats by night.

    The drinking options, as you’d expect from a first-rate hotel bar, are both abundant and excellent, particularly when it comes to cocktails. Unlike many first-rate hotel bars, they're not wincingly expensive. Their 'Forest Sour' (vodka, crème de mure, grapes, lemon, strawberry, maple syrup) is recommended – it's impressively fresh, balanced and distinctive. But for the superlative Hong Kong drinking experience, it has to be the 'Red Sky Colour' (comprising vodka, crème du cassis, rosé wine, raspberry honey, lime and ginger), sipped out on the deck, having raised a subtle toast to the sunset. Mark Tjhung, editor, Time Out Hong Kong

    
2/F, EAST Hotel, 29 Tai Koo Shing Road, Hong Kong. +852 3968 3738. www.sugar-hongkong.com


    Discover Hong Kong's 50 best bars

    Hong Kong, China
  • Singapore

    A 'Singapore Sour' at Loof

    Tourists may charge to Raffles Hotel to venerate the Singapore Sling, but for a slightly less 19th-century, more up-to-date Singapore drinking experience head for an a la carte cocktail at a rooftop bar. Following a recent renovation, Loof has re-emerged as one of the leaders of the year-round alfresco trend, thanks to a locally inspired list of cocktails and some of the best bar bites you’ll find in Singapore…

    Atop the Odeon Towers in Singapore’s downtown CBD, the revamped Loof bills itself as Singapore’s first standalone rooftop bar. The name references the idiosyncrasies of local culture (particularly Singlish), and in its new incarnation, the bar turns the spotlight on local flavours. There’s a strong menu of South-East Asian-driven food and cocktails, conducive of a fun and relaxed atmosphere – great for a post-work tipple and a chance to sit back and enjoy an excellent view of the surrounding area (Loof overlook Raffles Hotel, birthplace of the original Singapore Sling).

    Among the bespoke drink choices, created by Loof manager Aaron Tan and local mixologist Ken Loon, our local hero is the 'Singapore Sour', one of their 'Asian Sensations', featuring calamansi juice, vodka, soda and a sour plum syrup – plus an actual sour plum dropped into the mix. It manages to pull off sour, salty, sweet and refreshing all at once – perfect for the open-air tropical weather and one of the few drinks in town to utilise the sour plum, found in supermarkets all around town. Berwin Song, editor, Time Out Singapore

    Third Floor, Odeon Towers, 331 North Bridge Road, Singapore. +65 6338 8035. www.loof.com.sg


    Discover Singapore's best cocktails

    Singapore
  • Sydney, Australia

    'Irish Handcuffs' at Baxter Inn

    The best cocktails at Baxter Inn may be their 'Negroni' on tap, their 'Salty Dog' or their 'Old Pal' but if you want a true Sydney experience in a quintessentially Sydney bar, you order a local beer and a whisky chaser. Or, as we like to call it, 'Irish Handcuffs'. Yep, it’s harder to get away from our convict history than you think – especially when it tastes so deliciously of the 365 top-shelf whiskies on offer at this hideaway basement bar...

    That queue of people rolling out of a dark, nondescript laneway on Clarence Street is for Baxter Inn – a candlelit basement bar with thick carpet, jazz and blues and toilets that have some of the best acoustics in town. It’s kind of modelled on an old-school American Irish sports bar, only with no sport and much better whisky.

    We’re not kidding about those acoustics, by the way – the tiled-and-wood-panelled bathrooms are each equipped with their own PA. They sound so good and are so nice, we’re almost tempted to set up camp in there. There are tables and chairs dotted around the room (which takes around 140 drinkers) as well as little rests lining the brick pillars for your drinks, but it’s all about stalking around the bar. Cocktails are reliably awesome but not the focus here. There’s a short list at the front of the book, with some of our favourites ('South Sides', 'Americanos', 'Tommy’s Margaritas', 'Gibsons'...) and the guys will make you just about anything you’d want to ask for. There is beer on tap and Negronis, too. Hot damn! Be sure to stay until close, when the bell rings and things get crazy. Myffy Rigby, Food & Drink editor, Time Out Australia

    156 Clarence Street, Sydney, Australia


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    Sydney, Australia
  • Tokyo, Japan

    Hoppy and shochu at Fujiya Honten

    Exquisite cocktails, ultra-rare whiskies, miso beer – Tokyo is a tantalising destination for any booze geek. But for an introduction to the city's salaryman drinking culture, this retro standing bar in Shibuya is the place to go.

    There's never much risk of running up an outrageous tab at Fujiya Honten. Customers at this basement standing bar – a venerable boozer that was established more than 130 years ago – simply plonk down the amount of money they've budgeted for the night, and the staff deduct from it accordingly as each order arrives. It's an old-fashioned practice that seems to have died out at other, less honest drinking establishments around town, but very much in keeping with the retro vibe here. 

    Join the salarymen crowded around the open kitchen, bathe in the aroma of the deep-fat fryer and start off with a round of draft beer – at ¥450 (€4.20), one of the priciest things on the menu – before moving on to something stronger. While sophisticates might prefer some nihonshu, the most popular option is shochu liquor, sold in 360ml bottles with a choice of mixers. Opt for Hoppy, an old-school beer substitute that's come back in vogue with the office-worker sect recently, and which makes for a crisp, refreshing DIY cocktail. James Hadfield, editor, Time Out Tokyo (English edition)

    Fujiya Honten, B1F, 2-3 Sakuragaoka-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan. +81 (0)3 3461 2128


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    Picture by James Hadfield

    Tokyo, Japan

Beijing, China

A jar of Honey Ma Gold beer at Great Leap Brewing

A US brew laced with honey from the Great Wall and peppercorns from distant Sichuan province, Great Leap Brewing’s sweet-yet-fiery Honey Ma Gold is Beijing in a glass: a mix of old Eastern ingredients and modern Western techniques, enormously attractive to hipsters and, thanks to Great Leap’s location, intimately tied to the city’s winding hutong alleys. Plus it’s enormously alcoholic, just like a sizeable chunk of the city’s foreign population…

The bustling, tat-filled storefronts of Nanluoguxiang have made the street a magnet for tourists from around the world. But push past the glowing façades and into the knot of alleys down Jongying Hutong and you’ll find one of Beijing’s most idiosyncratic – but influential – beery haunts. Opened in 2010, Great Leap Brewing wasn’t the first place in Beijing to offer microbrewed beers in the city, but it did spark off a craze for home-brewing that has seen amateur hop-heads crafting ales all over the city.

Not that the pints served up at Great Leap are anything less than professional quality. Whether you’re sipping the sweetly malty Pale Ale #6 or the moreishly bitter Danshan Wheat – made with black tea from Danshan – you’re all but guaranteed high times (and a high ABV). They’re not cheap (the menu declines to list prices for a reason) but these are beers to be savoured anyway, not knocked back in a boozy rush. Indeed, such is the bar’s success with ale connoisseurs that founder Carl Setzer has even started hosting ‘how to brew’ classes (pictured).

It’s the setting that completes the package, though. Surrounded by 8ft-high walls, dotted with trees and tables and thankfully equipped with a mosquito zapper, Great Leap’s courtyard – located on Doujiao Hutong, down the west end of Jongying Hutong – is a great place to while away the summer. And while it’s a little less inviting in the colder months, the warmly friendly staff (well, save for Setzer, a man who’s in love with beer alone and seems to regard customers as a necessary evil) and comfy couches make the tiny interior space a fine place to hide as it gets colder. James Wilkinson, editor, Time Out Beijing (English edition)

Great Leap Brewing, 6 Doujiao Hutong, off Dianmenwai Dajie, Dongcheng, Beijing, China. +86 10 5717 1399. www.greatleapbrewing.com


Discover the best bars and nightlife in Beijing



Picture by Chen Chao

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