We have a map. We also have detailed directions a local hipster kindly scrawled on it.
But apparently that is not enough to find 001, a secret – or, depending on your address, not-so-secret – underground speakeasy in Hong Kong’s Central district.
“You’ll never find it,” says Olivia Toth, director of public relations at the posh Peninsula hotel where we are staying. So on a steamy June evening she offers to play tour guide.
Cocktails have become a competitive sport in this city; in general, finding a good drink isn’t difficult. But nothing beats savouring a sip in a space with a members-only feel, where the hint of clandestine encounters hangs in the air. And that makes 001 the hidden gem in Hong Kong’s cocktail crown.
We have already sampled Butler, a lounge routinely ranked as one of Hong Kong’s best places to enjoy a tipple.
The owner, Masayuki Uchida, has created a cozy Japanese-inspired 20-seat den where showmanship is key. Clad in bow ties and shirt-vests, bartenders concoct drinks to fulfill almost any whim, adding garnish with the flourish of a magician.
I sip on a China Blue, a lychee and blue Curaçao creation. It’s tasty – and fitting for the occasion – but 001 remains a must.
Opened a few years ago, 001 has no website and no discernible street address. It does have a phone number (852-2810-6969), which we use to make a reservation – necessary to guarantee a seat and to avoid being rejected, even when the place is empty. One must also dress well and comport oneself suitably to avoid the embarrassment of not getting in.
Toth takes us to Queen’s Road Central where we wander south, uphill along Graham Street, a wet market that first opened in the 1800s and is considered the oldest continuously operating street bazaar in Hong Kong.
Exotic fruits and vegetables are present, along with every imaginable type of meat. So is the overpowering odour of fish as we sidestep entrails in our high heels.
Just before reaching Wellington Street, Toth leads us to an unmarked black door hidden among the stalls and piles of detritus. A spotlight is fixed on a tiny brass buzzer. We press it. Whisked down a set of stairs, we enter a 67-seat sanctuary where the walls are black, the chairs are covered with aquamarine leather and the booths are draped in green velvet.
We are the first to arrive at 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday, but the place fills quickly and the chatter soon rivals the jazz.
I order a gimlet. It boasts the perfect amount of sour and I admit I emptied my glass in an instant.
“We don’t advertise,” manager Jameson Ang says matter-of-factly. “It’s all word of mouth.”
And, perhaps a little hand-holding to make sure you get there.