Is it an umbrella shop? No, of course not. It’s a bar. Foxglove is just one of a new generation of watering holes that hide behind deliberately misleading façades.
“There are so many bars in Hong Kong, people are looking for something different,” says Bikal Ghale, manager of Foxglove, a jazz bar accessible through a sliding door in an otherwise inconspicuous umbrella shop.
For designer Ashley Sutton, hiding a bar behind a false façade is a way to turn a simple evening drink into an almost theatrical experience. His latest bar, Ophelia, is tucked behind a mock bird shop called Mr. Wong’s Aviary. “I want people to feel romance as they enter,” says Sutton. Creating a fake shop as a buffer is also a way to counterbalance the bar’s drab location on the first floor of a shopping centre. “I had to put something there to break down that experience of walking through that horrible mall,” he says.
“I dream a lot,” says Sutton, and that was how he came up with the concept for Ophelia, which is the name of a glorious Javanese peacock that was Mr. Wong’s most prized possession. Wong is a fictional character, of course, but a good back story is crucial to any hidden bar, even if it’s invented. Sheung Wan’s Mrs. Pound claims to be the passion project of a mysterious former burlesque dancer, while in Sai Ying Pun, Ping Pong Gintonería is housed inside a former ping pong club.
There’s a fine line between novelty and gimmickry, though. It’s important to know that, once the secret door swings open, you’ll be treated not just to a surprise but a good one. With that in mind, here are four bars that aren’t what they seem – and whose secrets are worth getting to know.
Ping Pong Gintonería
This basement gin bar is a lesson that less is more. Housed in a former table tennis club, designer Hugh Zimmern decided to keep the club’s old façade intact, preserving two rows of Chinese characters next to the door and the sign reading “Ping Pong City” above.
A new door with a porthole window was added, along with a single pink fluorescent tube—normally associated with brothels—which hints at the irreverent atmosphere downstairs, where customers are greeted by a minimalist concrete space, contemporary Hong Kong art and a huge neon sign above the bar.
129 Second Street, Sai Ying Pun, tel: 9158 1584; pingpong129.com
Described in these very pages as “the worst kept secret in Hong Kong”, Mrs. Pound still hasn’t lost its charm since it opened in 2014. Housed behind the façade of a Chinese stamp shop – a tribute to one of Sheung Wan’s traditional trades – you need to find the right carved chop to open a hidden door. Inside, you’ll discover a bright space inspired by the 1960s aesthetics of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, a drinks list of local beers and cheeky cocktails, along with a pan-Asian menu of street-food-inspired dishes.
6 Pound Lane, Sheung Wan, tel: 3426 3949; mrspound.com
The owners and designers of Mrs. Pound have taken the secret bar concept to a new level with Foxglove. From its exterior on Ice House Street, you’d be hard-pressed to identify it as anything but a luxury shop – you can even buy the umbrellas, which are made by Landmark menswear boutique The Armoury. Grab hold of the right umbrella, though, and a door slides open to reveals a speakeasy-style jazz bar. NC Design and Architecture, the Hong Kong firm behind the space, took a cue from early 20th century planes, trains and automobiles and created a series of rooms with curved sculptural ceilings.
2/F, Printing House, 6 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2116 8949; foxglovehk.com
If the faux shophouses of the redeveloped Lee Tung Street are a decidedly romantic reimagining of Hong Kong’s colonial past, Ophelia is an equally fantastical interpretation of a drinking den. After arriving at what appears to be Baz Luhrmann’s version of a Chinese bird shop, you’ll pass through a set of heavy velvet curtains into an even more opulent space dominated by the colours and patterns of peacock feathers.
There’s a burlesque element, too, with nightly dancers who roam the space and writhe on daybeds mounted above the bar.
Shop 39A, 1/F, Lee Tung Avenue, Wan Chai, tel: 2420 1117; facebook.com/opheliahongkong