Edited by Shannon Chapman
Day Three was when I finally oriented myself enough to start checking out bars in SoHo (South of Hollywood Road.) SoHo is basically Hong Kong’s entertainment district with fantastic bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Late on a Wednesday evening I hiked my way up a steep hill to a surprisingly busy Quinary.
Quinary is a cocktail bar with a particularly notable reputation. This is partially due to the bar holding its place on The World’s 50 Best Bars list. In 2017, Quinary scored the 40th place on the list. Many bars that make it onto this list typically offer something unique in presentation, flavours, mixology, ambiance or even design. Quinary likely made it onto the list due to the fact it touches on several of these things – but mostly because it utilizes a gastronomic philosophy. Quinary has a list of about 40 original cocktails, and many of them utilized fascinating techniques and technology. This included house-made edible pearls, smoke used as a garnish, and controlled carbonation.
Upon my arrival I got a seat at the bar. I did this accidentally on purpose. I highly recommend a seat at the bar at Quinary, because from this vantage point you can see all the action. As it turns out, I sat right in front of the service bar. Right as they are seated, guests are greeted with a leather-bound cocktail menu, a glass of water, and a rocks glass filled with complementary chips (crisps for my U.K. friends). This standard of service right off the bat tell the guest exactly how high the bar is set; think something more in the vein of fine dinning. High-end cocktail bars will emphasize steps of service, and all of them have a drink menu that feels and reads like a book. Quinary was no exception here. The menu was laid out into four categories: Signatures, Spiritfree (virgin cocktails), Bartender’s Choice, and Quinary Classics (twists on well-known cocktails.)
Quinary produces an atmosphere similar to the high-end cocktail bars we know from any big city. It’s incredibly dimly lit. The bartenders wear dark denim dress shirts paired with fantastically functional aprons. The bartender presents my first cocktail and I lift up the glass, the coaster sticks to it and quickly drops back onto the bar. I pick it up running my fingers over the material. The coaster feels durable and has considerable weight – it’s made from polished leather. I notice the bartenders restacking these same leather coasters after cleaning up from each guest. Well that’s a great way to reduce waste.
Behind the bar on the first shelf sit a number of house-made infusions. Here well-known brands are relabeled with their unique flavours: “Tonka Bean Johnny Walker Black Label” and “Lemongrass Tanqueray” to name a few. The creation of a few of the “Signature” cocktails piqued my interest. Several of the bartenders tend to a small station with a standard fine metal kitchen strainer in a pot of water. It looks like a water bath scenario controlled with digital button precision. The bartender lifts the strainer out of the water bath to reveal orange-red pearls, and spoon these pearls into a large coupe glass already containing some boozy liquid. On top of this the bartender piles on stiff, airy foam. This foam holds its shape and doesn’t melt into the cocktail. This is their most famous Earl Grey Caviar Martini (Cointreau, Ketel One Citreon vodka, elderflower syrup.) For anyone more knowledgeable in gastronomic food trends these are edible pearls. It’s a process that turns any food item into jelly-like pearls. In the case of the Earl Grey Martini the caviar is earl grey tea. This is also the same flavour infused into the foam.
On the service bar the bartender shakes up a cocktail, pours it into a tall rocks glass, slips that glass into a brown paper bag, and snaps an elastic band around the neck. He then breaks out the smoking gun, firing it up and inserting the hose in the paper bag until it’s brimming with thick, aromatic smoke. The bag almost completely hides the cocktail, forcing the guest to get struck by the smell of the smoke first. This drink is another well-known Quinary signature called Prey (Ron Zacapa 23 Year Old rum, lemon juice, along with flavours of chocolate, orange and pineapple.)
But the third signature that genuinely piqued my interest had nothing to do with the ingredients and everything to do with the method. The service bartender filled a clear, plastic cylinder with various liquids from the bar, threw in some ice, and sealed it shut. Then he pulled out a black, coiled hose, attached it to the bottom of the cylinder, and proceeded to shake it while also pumping in CO2. I later learned this fantastic system is called a Perlini shaker, and it carbonizes anything. I hadn’t seen it before, or since during my stay in Hong Kong so this very much stuck with me. Oh also the cocktail created here is called Crystal 10 (clarified grapefruit juice, Tanqueray No. 10 gin, and grapefruit bitters), a gin-based cocktail served over a large ice cube in an ornate teacup. I honestly wish I ordered it just for the glassware choice.
The bartenders here are clearly seasoned, as each maintained the same specific standard (even when the rush hit). This is so incredibly important to the guest, because it translates into consistency. I saw the bartender working service bar, and he made each drink with a never-tiring level of precision, speed and accuracy. Did I mention the bartenders here use those fantastic metal tweezers? I love that shit.
Quinary, as far cocktail bars go, isn’t particularly unique in terms of their brand or concept. Their signature cocktails utilize some great methods and ingredients expected from bars of this caliber. They’re consistent, have a great atmosphere, and expertly hold up their reputation. After my visit I would recommend Quinary to a friend, just like almost every person I met recommended it to me. This bar deserves its place on The World’s 50 Best Bars list for their creativity, technical skills, and consistently high-standard of service.