High-class restaurants were first to make their mark as pop-ups on the Hong Kong night scene, and then came a wave of decadent bar openings

Hong Kong’s bar scene is world renowned for good reason. With countless spots across the city to partake in a little libation, you’re never far from the nearest watering hole. Whether it’s a classy bespoke aperitif prior to dinner, a cooling beer in the heat of the city, or molecular mixology at work, there’s always a perfect venue. But a comparatively recent addition to the vast array of options has also become one of the hottest global nightlife trends: the pop-up bar.

The interior of Ophelia

The interior of Ophelia

Temporary restaurants led the way with guest chefs travelling the world to showcase their skills and menus. Lima is an awfully long way from Hong Kong, so Peruvian chef Virgilio Martínez’s stint at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong’s Amber restaurant – a four-hands dinner with the hotel’s Culinary Director Richard Ekkebus – was a unique opportunity for residents and guests to try his country’s remarkable cuisine.

Cocktail craft at The Iron Fairies

Cocktail craft at The Iron Fairies

When it comes to liquid refreshment, again locals and visitors in Hong Kong are spoilt for choice. Tucked away in the new nightlife enclave of Lee Tung Avenue in Wan Chai is a recently opened bar unlike any other. Ophelia redefines speakeasy for today – stepping inside is like entering another world. The first Hong Kong bar by designer Ashley Sutton, the venue is hidden behind an exotic ‘bird shop’ and is redolent of an opulent opium den in its heyday. The interior is certainly intoxicating: surfaces are covered in peacock motifs, a bewitching decor even before you factor in the elegant, sensual and exotic cheongsam-clad dancers reclining on chaises longues or performing throughout the evening. Another new arrival is The Iron Fairies in Central where this time butterflies – all 10,000 of them – are suspended from the ceiling as an ethereal backdrop to the cocktails.

PDT at The Landmark, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong

PDT at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

It could be said that The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong pioneered the pop-up in Hong Kong, at first through its guest chef series and latterly through its memorable temporary bars, which became the hottest ticket in town. First on the agenda was the legendary New York bar PDT (Please Don’t Tell), which wowed the night crowd as much for the fit-out as for its remarkable food and beverage offerings. Upstairs in MO Bar, the space was transformed into a carbon copy of the East Village original in Manhattan, complete with a secret entrance through a phone box, taxidermy on the walls and smart booths. Drinks from PDT founder Jim Meehan, such as Benton’s Old Fashioned – prepared with Benton’s bacon-infused Bulleit Bourbon, bitters and maple syrup – proved hugely popular, as did the four limited-edition hot dogs by several celebrated chefs: Richard Ekkebus from Amber, Alvin Leung from Bo Innovation, Jowett Yu from Ho Lee Fook, and Matt Abergel from Yardbird. In fact, such was the bar's success it's returning to The Landmark in 2017.

Preparing at jámon Ibérico de bellota

Preparing at Bar High Five

More recently, the legendary Tokyo-based Bar High Five, which achieved third place in Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards for 2016, wowed its customers with founder and master bartender Hidetsugu Ueno heading up the cocktail-making team. Once again, MO Bar was revamped, this time into a jewel-box-like venue that recalled Mr Ueno’s glamorous establishment in Tokyo’s Ginza district. The pop-up had 14 specially crafted cocktails on the menu, which celebrated the idiosyncratic art of Japanese bartending. In a nod to Mr Ueno’s theatrical approach, giant blocks of ice were carved into intricate ‘diamonds’. Richard Ekkebus completed the unique experience with his bespoke small plate menu, including delicacies such as jámon Ibérico de bellota.

Given the runaway success of these pop-ups and many more besides, it doubtless won’t be long until the next globally influential mixologist shows off their skills in Hong Kong. Watch this space.

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Chris Dwyer

Chris Dwyer is a Hong Kong-based food and travel writer. He has written for CNN and publications across the world, and has a food review website at www.finefooddude.com

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