Asia has more than 30 cities with more than five million inhabitants, but only two can claim the top bar on the list of the 50 best bars in Asia.

Every year since the list was launched, the continent’s top-rated bar has been located in either Hong Kong or Singapore.

The annual ranking is organized by William Reed Media, which also publishes The World’s Best Bars and The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

“Asia’s 50 Best Bars was the first and is currently the only regional ranking of the 50 best, with the first list announced in 2016,” said Mark Sansom, the list’s content editor. “Asia has a huge variety of brilliant bars and cities that we must recognize as one of the premier cocktail capitals in the world.”

The ‘best bar’ in Asia

In the past six years, five bars have topped the top 50 list. Singapore gained an early lead in overall wins, yet Hong Kong has had “best bar” in Asia twice in the past three years.

Here is the breakdown:

Bars that are number 1

year bar place
2016 28 Hong Kong Street Singapore
2017 Manhattan Singapore
2018 Manhattan Singapore
2019 The old man Hong Kong
2020 Jigger & Pony Singapore
2021 Coa Hong Kong
Source: Asia’s 50 Best Bars

Hong Kong’s Coa was named Best Bar in Asia at this year’s awards announced in May. The Mexican-inspired eatery, with a menu that relies heavily on agave-based spirits, ousted Singapore’s Jigger & Pony, which dropped to # 2.

Coa, which was launched in 2017, made a name for itself with drinks such as “Ancho Highball” with tequila blanco and salt plum and “La Chinesca” with mezcal, cayenne pepper and ginger honey.

Jay Khan (left) opened Hong Kong’s Coa, a Mexican-inspired bar named for the tool used to harvest agaves.

Courtesy of Asia’s 50 Best Bars

Sansom said Coa took the top spot because of its “subtle agave training, laid-back vibes, and a simply fantastic drinks menu … combined with the great job they did to support their community during the pandemic.”

The full list

Asia’s 50 Best Bars List is compiled by tabulating the votes of 220 industry insiders, who named five bars, in order of preference, that they liked the most over the past 18 months. At least one bar must be outside of the voter’s country of residence.

An old fashioned, made with sugar from the Japanese island of Hateruma, at Singapore’s No. 2 Jigger & Pony.

Courtesy of Asia’s 50 Best Bars

“This method … means that bars cannot apply for inclusion on the list, cannot be nominated, and no outside influences (from William Reed or our sponsors) can influence the list,” says the 50 Best website.

The process also offers room for newcomers and opportunities to move between the rankings, both of which can be seen on the 2021 list:

1. Coa, Hong Kong
2. Jigger & Pony, Singapore
3. The SG Club, Tokyo
4. Indulge in 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 – 36th place in 2020
16. Sidecar, New Delhi – No. 40 in 2020
17. Bar Mood, Taipei, Taiwan
18. Bee’s Knees, Kyoto, Japan
19. Le Kief’s room, Taipei, Taiwan
20. The Diplomat, Hong Kong New
21. 28 HongKong Street, Singapore
22. Tropical city, Bangkok
23. Say Camellia, Hong Kong New
24. Aha Saloon, Taipei, Taiwan
25. Quinary, Hong Kong
26. Pontiac, Hong Kong Hong
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 softly, Shanghai
33. Union Brasserie, Bakery & Bar, Jakarta, Indonesia
34.Bar Cham, Seoul, South Korea
35.Backstage Cocktail Bar, Bangkok Bar
36th Tippling Club, Singapore – # 17 in 2020
37. Jungle Bird, 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
42nd The Old Man, Singapore – 22nd place in 2020
43. Bargraben, Tokyo
44. Le Chamber, Seoul, South Korea
45. MO Bar, Singapore
46th Vespers, Bangkok – No. 11 in 2020
47. Three X Co, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia New
48. Youngsters from Thailand, Bangkok
49. Sago House, Singapore New
50. Star Bar, Tokyo

Of the eight bars that appear on the list for the first time, half are in Hong Kong, the largest city in Asia. Not surprisingly, John Nugent, co-founder of The Diplomat, a speakeasy-style bar in the central district of Hong Kong that was ranked 20th as the highest-ranking new bar in Asia to open this year.

“Hong Kong has always been a city ready to cross borders,” he told CNBC Travel. “We have seen fun, interesting and exciting bars and will continue to see it in the near future.”

Diplomat’s John Nugent told CNBC that it was “extremely fun” to be part of Hong Kong’s new bar scene, “owned and run by the bartenders.”

Courtesy of the diplomat

Nugent is opening a new martini bar in Hong Kong this summer and has heard rumors of new bar openings in the neighborhood, he said. He described the area as “just a couple of takeaway kebab stalls, but now we have three ’50 best bars’ within 30 seconds.”

New in 2021: the extended list

Despite its name, Asia’s 50 Best Bars released an expanded list of bars rated 51-100 this year, a first for the organization.

“The 51-100 list gives us an opportunity to spot a greater number of fantastic bars, especially at this difficult time for the hospitality industry,” said Sansom. “It was great to see new destinations like Sri Lanka and Vietnam appearing on the list for the first time.”

He also said consumers now have “double the choice of expert-approved drinking destinations” when they make travel plans in the coming months.

Hong Kong has three bars on the expanded list:

  • 54. The Old Man – # 2 on last year’s list
  • 65. 8 1/2 Otto and a half bombana
  • 68. The shady mornings

Singapore has six:

  • 66. Gibson
  • 70. Employees only
  • 71. Ah Sam cold drinks stand
  • 75. Live twice
  • 79. The other room
  • 82. Junior The Pocket Bar

Individual awards

A final point of view to evaluate Asia’s cocktail capital is the individual honors of the 50 best organizations for specific bars and people. Together, Hong Kong and Singapore won seven of these nine awards.

This year, these Hong Kong businesses took home individual awards:

  • Quinary – Heering Legend of The List Award for a bar that has consistently achieved good rankings year after year
  • The Diplomat – London Essence Best New Opening, honors 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 climbed the highest in the rankings in a year
  • Penicillin – Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award for the bar with the strongest commitment to sustainability

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Singapore won these three:

  • No Sleep Club – the Disaronno Highest New Entry Award for the top rated bar entry list for the first time
  • Bannie Kang from Anti: Dote Fairmont Singapore – Mancino Bartenders’ Bartender Award, for the person who contributed the most last year
  • MO Bar – Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award for the best hospitality experience

After this year’s virtual ceremony, the awards ceremony for the 50 best bars in Asia is set to return to a personal format in 2022. Sansom said Singapore and Hong Kong could face stiff competition at the event, which is set to take place in Singapore.

“With the way the bar scenes are developing in other parts of Asia,” he said, “there are a lot of other places that are pushing very hard for the top spot.”