It’s a big year for the Asian bar industry. For the first time ever, the World’s 50 Best Bars finale will be held in Asia, taking place in Singapore this October. However, another first was marked, with Hong Kong hosting the first of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2023, which I attended a few days ago. Another hallmark is the fact that this was the first full-scale gathering of the bar community in Asia since 2019. Attracted by a number of events prior to closing – mostly in the nature of bar takeovers by some of the world’s most iconic personalities and bars – this gave me the added advantage of becoming familiar with many diverse venues across Hong Kong that I would not normally visit, from izakayas (Japanese-style brewing houses) to scrappy dive bars and speakeasies. Easy events like The Aubrey at The Mandarin Oriental – Izakaya, Quality Goods Club – Dive Bar, The Pontiac – All Round Fun Bar, etc.
First I look back on my 2018 trip to the city and a conversation with my go-to man for bar recommendations – Dev Sehgal, a Hong Kong bar veteran who has been in the city for a decade and, as insiders say, Hong Kong The OG of the bar. Currently beverage manager at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, and for many years prior to that, he was bar manager at 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana, the only Italian restaurant outside Italy to receive three Michelin stars. He says you must go to Koa. In case you’re curious, a COA has long been a specialized tool used to harvest agave, the plant used to make agave spirits like mezcal and tequila. Coa, bar launched in 2017,Not easy to find. With the words ‘Koa’ scrawled in extremely small font on a brick wall outside the bar, it whispers rather than shouts about its presence in central Hong Kong.
COA Team in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2023 | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
As I entered, I found the same COA displayed on the inside wall, and Jai Khan, the founder, behind the bar. Due to Jay’s frequent visits to Mexico, he became drawn to agave, especially since, as he told me, “they are the only spirits that express their flavor naturally.” That said, dark spirits are like whiskey where most of the flavor comes from maturation, or gin, where it’s a range of botanicals that contribute to the flavor.
The COA, when I visited in 2018, was pretty empty, and it’s been a challenging few years for Jay and his team to stay pure of their mission. Though the award was delayed, it’s been an exciting journey for him since then, coming in as the No.1 bar in Asia twice now, and as I visit two days before the finale, I’m lucky That’s me joined by Jay, because the line outside is a block long.
Beckley Franks, Founder of The Pontiac and Winner of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2023 | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2023, hosted by Mark Sansom, Director of Content for the World’s 50 Best Bars, is a tightly organized event of only 75 minutes, except for the last 10 minutes when it comes to announcing the top 3 bars in Asia Give , Prior to this, it has been a bumper year for India, featuring in the top 100 a record nine times, five in the 51-100 positions (Americano, Hideaway, PCO, Home, Hoots) and four in the top 50 (Kopitas). The Bombay Canteen, The Living Room by Mask and Sidecar). It’s no surprise that it’s New Delhi’s Sidecar that has received the Amaro Lucano Award for No. 1 Ranked Bar in India, 18th on this year’s list.
In preparation for the finale in October, the bars are abuzz with rumors of who could emerge as No. 1. Will it be COA for a record-breaking third year, or will it be Singapore’s Jigger and Pony, with its tempting new cocktail menu, or will it be Four Seasons Bangkok’s Bangkok Social Club? For many years, there has been a tussle between Jigar and the CoA, and as you might have guessed by now, the CoA has won again.
I ask Indra Kantono, co-founder of Jigar and Pony, whether he thinks this could be the year the Asian bar is recognized as No. 1 in the world. “While it would be amazing for an Asian bar to be recognized as number one in the world, we believe it is more important to foster the growth of bar culture and community,” he says.
After this, in a conversation with the media, Jai repeated Indra’s words. When asked how the COA would remain relevant, he said, “We will remain so.” so be it.