This stylish, intimate, Ernest Hemingway–inspired bar in Hong Kong’s SoHo has scooped the award for the Highest New Entry and ranks at number 5 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list. Just over one year old, The Old Man impresses guests with its complex cocktails, taking the taste buds on quite the adventure. I did a review last year during its soft-opening stage; to see the bar grow, stepping into the international spotlight, has been a humbling experience for me.
Co-founders Roman Ghale, Agung Prabowo and James Tamang have concocted 10 new experimental drinks (all $120) named after classic Hemingway novels. These concoctions incorporate local flavours like Batavia arrack, pandan leaf and coconut and are mixed with botany-infused liquors such as rotovap curry gin and sous-vide bamboo Americano Bianco, making this bijou bar not just a place to grab drinks but a space to experience out-of-the-box libations.
On the lighter side
I highly recommend The Winner Takes Nothing #1933. This refreshing cocktail transports the taste buds to somewhere tropical. Clear guava gin first hits the mouth with a subtle sweetness. Tarragon-infused carrot juice is used to give an earthy balance and bright colour, while blackened carrot creates an approachable smoky ending.
For something even sweeter, the intoxicating, delicious Hills Like White Elephants #1985 grasps your nose with its sweet, sweet smell. Bamboo and Americano Bianco are combined with a sweet honey Riesling, producing warm, aromatic hints of strawberry and cinnamon.
If you’re after something fruity and clean, For Whom the Bells Toll #1940 is one drink you can’t miss. Batavia arrack is infused with coca leaves for 24 hours, then mixed with distilled butter rum and sour strawberry. Before the drink is served, the top is spritzed with avocado spray. Umami flavours feature after a few sips, with a distinct savoury (tomato!) ending.
Heavier drinks at The Old Man come in flavourful layers, and if you’re brave enough for these boozy cocktails, it’s time to take the next step. The Garden of Eden #1985 combines a blend of melon, rye whisky and goat’s milk infused with bourbon. Sweet wine is used to make the cocktail’s rice paper, which is burned for a smoky flavour.
The Torrents of Spring #1926 is a whisky- and rice-infused mezcal cocktail. The glass is dusted with cocoa.
The famous The Sun Also Rises #1929 has become one of my favourites for its intriguing dark forest-green colour. This Asian-influenced, aromatic drink is initially bitter, with the taste of coconut following smoothly, intensified by pandan. A curry-leaf-infused gin is blended with capra fat-washed applejack and combined with sweet vermouth, which is infused with pandan and dried coconut.
A twist on the classics
These two light and playful cocktails are influenced by classics everybody loves, but created Old Man style. Both drinks are clear, replicating the classic rum and Coke and Bloody Mary respectively.
To Have and Have Not #1937 contains wood-fused rum, Coca-Cola and lime juice, topped with a light vanilla foam. With its clear colour, it leaves those guessing that it’s an ode to a simple rum and Coke with its light, citrusy taste.
A Movable Feast #1964, upstaging the previous drink, is spicy and savoury. The combination of sea water, vodka, tomato juice, coconut syrup and lemon juice leaves a lot of room for mystery. This clear, complex creation is given a minimalist touch, garnished with a cheese-wax oyster leaf.
Eccentric and outstanding
These last two drinks are truly dynamic, manifesting how The Old Man has soared to its world-class status.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place #1933 consists of salted tequila and banana juice, clarified with fat-washed ghee, celery and jalapeño. This concoction is distilled and topped with a simple drop of bright red chilli oil. This one smells spicy, but umami flavours supercede after a few sips.
In Our Time #1924 infuses sweet potato and rye whisky, homemade raspberry vinegar, sweet vermouth, pandan and aubergine, giving it its inky colour. A multitude of sour and savoury flavours are the initial impressions, produced from onion ash and raspberry vinegar, with a final note of chocolate lingering as the aftertaste. This cocktail resembles a dark beer and smells like fresh brewed coffee.
The Old Man’s new menu has something for everyone. Your taste buds can afford to be selfish because this is one of the only bars in Hong Kong where you can experience all types of zingy and quirky flavours in each of these innovative, delicious cocktails. The Old Man has established a theme that will never go out of style and champions elegance in simplicity with its easy-going, unpretentious atmosphere. The team remain one step ahead of the rest with their straightforward-looking drinks that defy logic – just wait until you take a sip.
LG/F, 37 Aberdeen Street, SoHo, Central, 2703 1899
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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