Of course, one of the first things I did after arriving in Hong Kong two days ago was look up the place's best whisky bars. The list was surprisingly short - actually, only one place came up: The Canny Man in the basement of the Wharney Guang Dong Hotel. From the reviews and the website, I was expecting something authentically Scottish. I was not disappointed.
Eileen and I stopped by on our way around Hong Kong island, intending to spend only an hour or so. We ended up meeting Kevin, the bar's owner/manager/founder, a Scot from Glasgow, and Eileen had to drag me out after well more than an hour. Besides having one of the best names in the world, Kevin was also one of the friendliest barmen I've met in a while. We talked for a bit about whisky in Hong Kong and he let me know that there are basically two other whisky bars besides The Canny Man. I managed to reach all of them in one day...so here are the at-a-glance reviews.
The Canny Man (Wan Chai, basement of the Wharney Guang Dong Hotel)
THIS IS THE PLACE FOR SCOTCH WHISKY IN HONG KONG. Not sure if I can be much clearer. While their selection doesn't reach into the stratosphere of ages or prices, the majority of us scotch fans don't and shouldn't really care. They have about 200 single malts on hand and you will be sure to find something you haven't tried yet, or an old favorite you would like to drink for hours.
Other good things to note:
- Great atmosphere - well-lit and comfortable space with friendly and knowledgeable waitstaff that makes you feel like you're in a real, friendly Scottish bar (except for the Asian waitstaff)
- Sociable manager/owner - Kevin is (or at least seems to be!) happy to talk about Hong Kong, the bar business, and whisky
- Great location - in Wan Chai, at the center of the action on Hong Kong Island, and within easy walking distance of the ferry pier and the subway stop
- The right attitude - Kevin let me have half pours of his whiskies at half the price; I wish more bars would do this so that those of us who want to widen our tasting portfolio can do so without breaking the bank
- The right pour size - a half pour was still an appreciable dram! And they serve in Glencairn glasses so you can get an appropriate experience from the whisky.
- Good food - I tried the "haggis balls" which, though not cheap (~US$11 for 5 balls), are a deep-fried delight that brought me right back to our trip to Scotland
NaNa Banana (Wan Chai)
A small Thai restaurant with a huge lineup of single malts collected by the owner and put up for sale. A number of them are price skyscrapers (~US$50/shot) and some are only available for purchase by the bottle (like the Macallan 1963 at ~US$2000).
Unfortunately, the huge collection of whisky is easier to look at than actually drink. I first asked if they could do half pours (their menu offers single pours and double pours); the waitress spoke little English so it took me a few attempts and some hand gestures to get her to understand what "half" means. She then asked if I wanted to drink half the bottle. Not sure what kind of customers they normally have, but I am not one of those. She finally understood and then told me flat out that no, they don't do half pours. Strike one.
I took about 20 minutes to figure out what I wanted and, after I ordered from their whisky menu, the waitress started looking through the bottles on the wall to try to find the one I wanted. After a while, I started helping her look. Neither of us could find it, so we gave up and I went back to looking for another one. Strike two. I took a few more minutes to find another one to try and ordered that one. She went back to looking for it on the shelf; this time, though, I had already found it myself and told her where it was (the exact opposite end from where she had started looking). After I finally got my "single" dram, I was unhappily surprised to see that it was more like a dramling - about what I would have expected from a half pour, had they been capable of doing such. And it was served in a rocks glass. Strike three.
The Chinnery (Central, inside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel)
I was told it would be pricey and stuffy, but I thought I'd check it out anyway. They wouldn't let me in because I was wearing shorts. Click here for Ace Ventura's summation of my feelings.