With a name that serves as a nod to prohibition era, password-protected drinking dens, Privé Group's newest, speakeasy-esque edition I Know John is perched on the ninth floor of Wellington Street's The Loop. Here, craft cocktails, niche wines and hard-to-find whiskies can be paired with gourmet hotdogs, cheese and chacuterie in understated, industrial chic surrounds. The Old and Fashioned ($110) is a slight twist on the classic, using a three-month barrel-aged straight rye mixed with orange dry vermouth, grapefruit and homemade muscovado spice sugar, making for a bittersweet bevvy.
Perched in the fifth floor of Mody House, Butler is helmed by Masayuki Uchida, a man who has mixed at some of the best bars in Ginza, Japan. Bookshelves at Butler hold back issues of Japanese whisky and cocktail magazines and the spot-lit bar boasts more than 200 different spirits. Butler’s vast array of single malts and blended whiskies include a blended Nikka from the barrel ($100) and the 16-year-old Scottish Lagavulin ($150), both of which make for a very smooth sip. Pair your drinks with Japanese-inspired snacks including oiled sardines ($198) and Wagyu beef tataki sashimi style (from $280).
Hotel bars can be a bit hit and miss and an oft overlooked bar is Chin Chin in the Hyatt Regency. Chin Chin is a definite hit for whisky buffs, with its Chinese-style décor and over 120 varieties of whisky to choose from. There’s even an outdoor terrace and music from a live band in the evenings. Scotch is well represented here, so sip on Isle of Skye 25-year-old Talisker ($730) or ball out with a glass of Glenfarclas 1968 ($1,950) while soaking up the live tunes.
Escape the throngs of Lan Kwai Fong at Club Qing, on the tenth floor of LKF’s Cosmos Building. This slice of zen is a cozy bolthole housing an impressive variety of over 150 whiskies, making it a go-to for Japanese aficionados who come for the rare bottles such as Karuizawa and Port Ellen. There’s over 35 whisky tasting sets including ‘The Harmony of Woods’ ($288), featuring Yoichi 12-year-old, Ichiro's Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve and Mars Single Cask 1992. There are even rare Scotch bottles, such as Islay whisky including Islay New Filling Malt by Samaroli ($138).
Far from the maddening crowds of Times Square snakes Yiu Wa Street, home to the Bartlock Centre - a building crying out for a makeover. High above on the 27th floor is Executive Bar, a quiet, classy hideaway with a picture-postcard view of Happy Valley Racecourse right below. The bar boasts an impressive range of whiskies from Scotland, Ireland, Japan and the USA, as well as creative cocktails. The spherical ice cubes here are a thing of beauty and thanks to their slow melt-rate, your whisky won’t be a watery one.
Hidden behind a wall on On Wo Lane, the deceptively spacious Ginger expands over two floors. Exposed concrete walls and wooden furniture dominate the ground level while upstairs is decked out with leather armchairs. Helmed by whisky critic Tony Leung, service comes with a splash of knowledge, a dash of enthusiasm and a generous pour of a love for whisky. The menu isn’t fixed and is constantly rotating based on what’s in stock.
Trusty neighbourhood whisky bar Malt is found by way of an alley behind Hollywood Road behind a simple brass door adorned with an ‘M’. The leatherbound menu is something of a whisky encyclopedia, complete with maps of whisky regions and notes on each whisky’s characteristics. Malt’s Smoky Old Fashioned ($130) blends whisky, Angostura orange and chocolate bitters smoked with Applewood smoke, while the Highland Dress ($120) is a sweeter concoction of Highland whisky, crème de pêche, lemon juice and peach nectar, a fruity libation and a solid choice for those less inclined to tackle the harder stuff.
Hidden in the fourth floor of a nondescript commercial building, Mizanura is helmed by the award-winning Masahiko Endo, originally from Fukuoka, Japan. This Japanese-style bar is an ambient, woody affair offering a choice of over 600 whiskies. Japanese distilleries are showcased, as well as niche varieites from India and Taiwan. Endo’s cocktails include the Maker’s Mark-based Smoky Manhattan ($250) with sweet vermouth Antica formula and rinsed with Laphroaig 10-year-old Islay Single Malt. Though the drinks aren’t on the wallet-friendly end of the scale, they’re crafted with care and Mizanura is a quiet hideout, living up to its library moniker.
Though not exactly hidden, Nocturne is on the quieter end of Peel Street and hidden away by its nondescript door. Glam and ambience marry with fine spirits in this candle-lit, jazz punctuated bar. Relax, be seated at the cement-topped bar and witness a show of precision by the skilled bartenders. With over 50 whiskies, Nocturne stocks the smooth and smoky 18-year-old Bowmore from Islay, Scotland ($200) - a difficult find in Hong Kong. Bonus then, that it pairs perfectly with the 36-months Iberico ($190). We also love the select-your-own-Japanese-whisky old fashioned, which always comes perfectly balanced (prices vary).