Asia has more than 30 cities with populations greater than five million people, yet only two can lay claim to the top bar on Asia's 50 Best Bars list.
Every year since the list's inception, the continent's best-ranked bar has been in either Hong Kong or Singapore.
"Asia's 50 Best Bars was the first and is currently the only regional 50 Best ranking, with the inaugural list announced in 2016," said Mark Sansom, the list's content editor. "Asia has a huge variety of brilliant bars and cities that we felt needed recognizing as some of the leading cocktail capitals in the world."
Over the last six years, five bars have topped the 50 Best list. Singapore gained an early edge in total wins, yet Hong Kong has had the "best bar" in Asia twice in the past three years.
Here's the breakdown:
Hong Kong's Coa was named Asia's best bar at this year's awards, announced in May. The Mexican-inspired establishment, with a menu that leans heavily upon agave-based spirits, edged out Singapore's Jigger & Pony, which fell to No. 2.
Coa, which launched in 2017, made its name with drinks such as the "Ancho Highball" with tequila blanco and salted plum and the "La Chinesca" with mezcal, cayenne pepper and ginger honey.
Sansom said Coa clinched the top spot due to its "subtle agave education, relaxed vibes and a simply fantastic drinks list… combined with the great work they have been doing to support their community throughout the pandemic."
Asia's 50 Best Bars list is created by tabulating votes from 220 industry insiders who name five bars, in order of preference, that they most enjoyed during the past 18 months. At least one bar must be outside the voter's country of residence.
"This method… means that bars cannot apply to be on the list, cannot be nominated, and no external influences (from William Reed or our sponsors) can influence the list," reads 50 Best's website.
The process also provides space for newcomers and opportunity for movement among the rankings, both of which are apparent on the 2021 list:
1. Coa, Hong Kong
2. Jigger & Pony, Singapore
3. The SG Club, Tokyo
4. Indulge Experimental Bistro, Taipei, Taiwan
5. Sober Company, Shanghai
6. Manhattan, Singapore
7. Atlas, Singapore
8. No Sleep Club, Singapore — new
9. Bar Benfiddich, Tokyo
10. Caprice Bar, Hong Kong — No. 34 in 2020
11. The Bamboo Bar, Bangkok
12. Bar Trigona, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
13. Charles H, Seoul, South Korea — No. 29 in 2020
14. Native, Singapore
15. Hope & Sesame, Guangzhou, China — No. 36 in 2020
16. Sidecar, New Delhi — No. 40 in 2020
17. Bar Mood, Taipei, Taiwan
18. Bee's Knees, Kyoto, Japan
19. Room By Le Kief, Taipei, Taiwan
20. The Diplomat, Hong Kong — new
21. 28 HongKong Street, Singapore
22. Tropic City, Bangkok
23. Tell Camellia, Hong Kong — new
24. Aha Saloon, Taipei, Taiwan
25. Quinary, Hong Kong
26. The Pontiac, Hong Kong
27. High Five, Tokyo
28. The Wise King, Hong Kong
29. Barbary Coast, Singapore — new
30. Penicillin, Hong Kong — new
31. Union Trading Company, Shanghai
32. Speak Low, Shanghai
33. Union Brasserie, Bakery & Bar, Jakarta, Indonesia
34. Bar Cham, Seoul, South Korea
35. Backstage Cocktail Bar, Bangkok
36. Tippling Club, Singapore — No. 17 in 2020
37. Junglebird, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
38. The Curator, Manila, Philippines
39. D.Bespoke, Singapore — No. 23 in 2020
40. Darkside, Hong Kong — new
41. Alice, Seoul, South Korea
42. The Old Man, Singapore — No. 22 in 2020
43. Bar Trench, Tokyo
44. Le Chamber, Seoul, South Korea
45. MO Bar, Singapore
46. Vesper, Bangkok — No. 11 in 2020
47. Three X Co, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — new
48. Teens of Thailand, Bangkok
49. Sago House, Singapore — new
50. Star Bar, Tokyo
Of the eight bars making their first appearance on the list, half are in Hong Kong, the most of any city in Asia. That doesn't surprise John Nugent, co-founder of The Diplomat, a speakeasy-style bar in Hong Kong's Central district which, at No. 20, was the highest ranking new bar to open in Asia this year.
"Hong Kong has always been a city willing to push the envelope," he told CNBC Travel. "We have seen and will continue to see fun, interesting and exciting bars in the near future."
Nugent is opening a new martini bar in Hong Kong this summer, and he's heard rumors of new bar openings in the neighborhood, he said. He described the area as recently being "just a couple of takeaway kebab joints, but now we have three '50 Best Bars' within 30 seconds of each other."
Despite its name, Asia's 50 Best Bars published an expanded list of bars that ranked from 51 to 100 this year, a first for the organization.
"The 51-100 list gives us the opportunity to recognize a greater number of amazing bars, especially during this difficult period for the hospitality industry," said Sansom. "It was great to see new destinations such as Sri Lanka and Vietnam appear for the first time on the list."
Plus, he said consumers now have "double the choice of expert-approved drinking destinations" as they make travel plans in the months ahead.
Hong Kong has three bars on the extended list:
- 54. The Old Man — No. 2 on last year's list
- 65. 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana
- 68. The Shady Acres
Singapore has six:
- 66. Gibson
- 70. Employees Only
- 71. Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall
- 75. Live Twice
- 79. The Other Room
- 82. Junior The Pocket Bar
A final lens through which to evaluate Asia's cocktail capital are the individual honors the 50 Best organization awards to specific bars and people. Together, Hong Kong and Singapore secured seven of those nine awards.
This year, these Hong Kong establishments took home individual awards:
- Quinary — Heering Legend of The List award, for a bar that consistently ranks well year after year
- The Diplomat — London Essence Best New Opening, honoring a new bar that opened with the highest ranking
- Caprice Bar — joint winner with New Delhi's Sidecar of the Nikka Highest Climber award, for the bar that has risen the most in rankings in a year
- Penicillin — Ketel One Sustainable Bar award, for the bar with the strongest commitment to sustainability
Singapore clinched these three:
- No Sleep Club — the Disaronno Highest New Entry award, for the highest-rated bar entering list for first time
- Bannie Kang of Anti:Dote Fairmont Singapore — Mancino Bartenders' Bartender award, for the individual who contributed the most during the previous year
- MO Bar — Michter's Art of Hospitality award, for best hospitality experience
Following this year's virtual ceremony, Asia's 50 Best Bars awards presentation is scheduled to return to an in-person format in 2022. Sansom indicated Singapore and Hong Kong may face stiff competition at the event, which is to held in Singapore.
"With the way the bar scenes are progressing in other parts of Asia," he said, "there are many other locations that are pushing very hard for the top spot."