ECONOMY

The Best Bar in Asia Right Now Is Coa in Hong Kong

Coa was founded by Jay Khan in 2017 to highlight agave spirits — it features a 41-page menu of them — and the name is drawn from the machete-like tool for harvesting agave. That serves as a departure from Jigger & Pony, which was #1 last year and where the experimental cocktails included the vodka-based and strawberry wine-infused Bubblegum Fizz. 

The cocktails at Coa include La Paloma de Oaxaca, with Tequila blanco, Mezcal joven, lime, grapefruit soda and worm salt; and the Ancho Highball, which features Tequila blanco, salted plum, ancho chile and guava soda.

“Coa sets itself apart with its passion and focus on great hospitality and the way it introduces agave spirits to its guests,” said Mark Sansom, content editor at 50 Best. “Not only are the cocktails simply fantastic, the way they are delivered to the guest with subtle education is second to none.” He adds: “What Coa has done to introduce a whole new style of alcohol to its city is unprecedented and goes to show the potential for small bars with a clear identity.”

The ranking is based on the votes of members of the Asia’s 50 Best Bars Academy. Some of the winning bars may be in various states of closure as countries try to stop or slow the spread of Covid-19. The voting was done differently this year — not only were there more academy chairs around the region, but judges were asked to nominate five bars, with up to four from their home country. That’s down from previous iterations in which judges were asked to suggest seven bars with at least two being international.

“When we were awarded #1 Bar in Asia 2020, this win was both an honor and a responsibility to represent our team, our city, and our industry across Asia in this time of crisis as we navigate the path to recovery,” said Indra Kantono, co-founder of the Jigger & Pony Group, in an interview. “Our customers and the cocktail bar industry in Singapore have been really supportive since we received the title — and this motivates us to never rest on our laurels.”

The awards come at a time when parts of Asia are continuing to deal with devastating impacts of the coronavirus. Most major cities in Asia — from Tokyo to Hong Kong, not to mention countries like India — have struggled with waves of cases that have made business operations challenging. Places that have traditionally ranked high on the best bar list, like Singapore, have been closed to the tourists that help support them, which also impacts operations and threatens their future. 

Last year’s number two pick was the Hemingway-inspired The Old Man, in Hong Kong. The Old Man, which ranked Number One in 2019, took a precipitous fall to 54 this year.

“Just like the fisherman Santiago from our namesake, this year we have faced ‘salao’—unluckiness of the worst kind with social unrest, Covid, big changes in our little bar and now an unexpected drop in the rankings,” said Nikita Matveev, operations director at The Old Man — Hong Kong, who added that the establishment respects the ranking decision but isn’t going to give up. “Having a bar during a pandemic is tough. But we still want make our guests happy and are thankful for everything we have now. Challenges only make us stronger.”

MO Bar, located in Singapore’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, won the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award in addition to ranking 45th on the list. The establishment’s menu is themed on a journey around the region, with cocktails like the Panacea, with gin, Makrut lime and pandan; or the White Rabbit, with tomato, Kimchi and black garlic.

People became more specific with their orders coming out of Singapore’s Covid-19 circuit breaker last year, MO bar manager Adrian Bosa said. Many guests had tried their takeaway cocktails offered when bars could do delivery but not host customers in-person, “so when they come here, they know what they want,” Bosa said in an interview last October. He added that he was seeing rum in particular get more popular.

Bannie Kang of Mu in Taipei, “who has brought a new dimension of flavor to Asia and who hosts a huge energy to support her peers,” according to the 50 Best website, collected the Mancino Bartender’s Bartender Award. At Mu (ranked 90 on this year’s list), the South Korean native focuses on the flavors of her childhood and encourages her staff to do the same, according to 50 Best.

Epic in Shanghai got the Campari “One to Watch” award.

The announcement was made Thursday in a video ceremony from London.

William Reed Business Media, which owns and operates Asia’s 50 Best Bars and the World’s 50 Best Bars and Restaurants lists, have created the 50 Best for Recovery program, in partnership with Perrier. The fund has raised about $1.3 million to support restaurants and bars around the world via direct grants and to non-profit organizations. William Reed is also relaunching its 50 Best Discovery search engine in late June, which features more than 600 establishments around the world, according to 50 Best’s Sansom. All of the places included have gotten votes from the 50 Best academy, and it’s meant to help people find places to go.

A list of the best bars follows, along with their locations.

2. Jigger & Pony – Singapore

4. Indulge Experimental Bistro – Taipei

5. Sober Company – Shanghai

8. No Sleep Club – Singapore

9. Bar Benfiddich – Tokyo

10. Caprice Bar – Hong Kong

11. The Bamboo Bar – Bangkok

12. Bar Trigona – Kuala Lumpur

15. Hope & Sesame – Guangzhou

16. Sidecar – New Delhi

18. Bee’s Knees – Kyoto

19. Room by Le Kief – Taipei

20. The Diplomat – Hong Kong

21. 28 HongKong Street – Singapore

22. Tropic City – Bangkok

23. Tell Camellia – Hong Kong

25. Quinary – Hong Kong

26. The Pontiac – Hong Kong

28. The Wise King – Hong Kong

29. Barbary Coast – Singapore

30. Penicillin – Hong Kong

31. Union Trading Company – Hong Kong

33. Union Brassier, Bakery & Bar – Jakarta

35. Backstage Cocktail Bar – Bangkok

36. Tippling Club – Singapore

37. Junglebird – Kuala Lumpur

39. D Bespoke – Singapore

42. The Old Man – Singapore

47. Three X Co – Kuala Lumpur

48. Teens of Thailand – Bangkok

49. Sago House – Singapore

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