Hong Kong’s Bar Scene Is Hiding 2 New Speakeasies

There are a dozen internationally acclaimed cocktail bars to seek out in Hong Kong, but you may not have heard about these two speakeasies yet.

Bread and Butter cocktail from Artifact

Photo by David Thomas Holmberg, courtesy of Artifact

Driving through Central Hong Kong’s narrow, hilly streets amid soaring skyscrapers and clustered storefronts, you’ll likely notice the frequency of antique shops amid dried seafood, restaurants, street art, and retail. I’m intrigued to learn on a walk with Vea chef Vicky Cheng that the many ornate urns in these shops aren’t merely for decor. The vessels age rice wine, liqueurs, tea, and even some of that dried seafood. On Hollywood Road, you can peruse an array of these symbols before the clerk behind the counter unlocks one of the walls in the tiny storefront, unveiling a moody open space that feels like a historic bank. Amid a massive vault, spiral staircase, bank windows, and banquettes, you’ll find more than you bargained for — except a financial institution. 

The new Maggie Choo’s fills what feels like a movie set with live jazz music and cabaret dancers. For Americans, the vibe is very 1930s, with modern cocktails and shareable plates including charcuterie and cheese boards, irresistible fries, and substantive options like mini beef burgers, popcorn chicken, and slow-cooked lamb shoulder (with sticky hoisin and sesame).

“The beverage program at Maggie Choo’s is designed to cater to different demographics for different night hours,” says Sandeep Sekhri, creator of the hospitality group Boutique Bars. “Maggie Choo’s presents immersive and entertainment experiences and involves daily live jazz performances from 7-10 p.m. to DJ performances with dancers for the later hours so the bar program has to be adaptable.”

Expect curated cocktails in the after-work hours and batch cocktails when the bar is crowded late. Be sure to use the restroom before you go to see inside the vault.

For a jolt back to reality, BaseHall 02 beneath the Jardine House tower offers a stark contrast to the dark and mysterious air of Maggie Choo’s. Amid massive modern shopping malls the subterranean food hall is the epitome of new. The food concepts are sleek and cool with neon signs and picture-perfect branding dividing steaming dumplings and slurpable noodles. In the very back a brisk sign indicates the Artifact chef’s table, an omakase counter. Behind it, mystical iridescent circles lead the curious just beyond.

Follow the shiny dots to a discreet button that triggers a sliding door, transporting those in the know down a textural walkway into the galactic space that is Artifact bar. Drinks industry mavens Beckaly Franks and Ezra Star have introduced a cocktail den like nothing I’ve ever seen. The bar looks like the star command of the room with impeccably executed cocktails served around an orange illumination while the tables offer intimate spots that feel like they’re on a spaceship in the most refined way, rather than kitschy or themed.

“You lose all elements of time and space,” Franks says of the “psy-fi” space designed by Nelson Chow of NCDA, although “an artifact is a token of time, evidence of the journey.”

Order a Bread and Butter and make new friends. Despite a layout that can accommodate an independent experience with your party, this is a gathering place.

“We serve people, not drinks,” Franks emphasizes of all her venues. “At the end of the day, we are a bar that is meant to entertain guests, build beautiful teams, and most of all just have fun.”

Partner Michael Larkin rounds out the team, which Franks calls “a triangle of complimentary force” that’s behind internationally recognized sister bars The Pontiac and Mostly Harmless, among others. Ask them where to go next.

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