The most creative hidden bars and speakeasies in Asia
These established speakeasies might be difficult to spot but are well worth a visit when you are travelling to these vibrant cities.
by Amy Van /
December 30, 2023
As long as you can find the entry point, you are welcome to step in, perch yourself at the bar, and taste your way through the impressive collection of drinks. Some of the entrances are disguised as a street food stand, vending machine or gym lockers. It may be difficult to find them, but it’s undeniably exciting to navigate towards these intimate speakeasies.
This top specialty gin bar in Osaka’s Kita business district (Dojima, 1 Chome−4−4, Nj Bldg., 1F) is out of sight from the main street and tuck away behind a typical Japanese drinks vending machine. Pull the handle of the ‘vending machine’ and step into a sophisticated setting whose vibe is reminiscent of an old world apothecary.
The shelves are lined with Japan-made gins and labels from all over the world. Some of the rare vintages are up to a century old. There’s no menu here – so let the bartender know what you like and he’ll concoct something special for you. For instance, they may use local ingredients like yuzu or sudachi lime combined with Japanese gin. While you sip your concoction, watch the team showcase their bartending skills and ice carving. If the main bar is full, you can had next door to their more casual bar (entrance is through a normal door).
This popular establishment (Toegye-ro 62-gil, Gwanghui-dong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu) is located in Seoul’s buzzy Dongdaemun area. The entrance may look like an ordinary chiller storage stocked with fruits and vegetables. But just behind the fridge door is a lively bar boasting themed rooms. Choose the futuristic dining space with sunken seating areas or the casual dining area (it’s a café by day).
Sip their signature Jean Frigo cocktail made with thyme and dehydrated apple fused with whisky, and garnished with a flaming cinnamon stick. Or go for the fruity pina coladas or mojitos. You’re in a fruit-inspired bar/café after all.
The coastal city of Danang in central Vietnam is known for its beaches and lush hills. In the country’s third largest city, you may not find the chaotic buzz and insane traffic like in Ho Chi Minh. The vibe here is more relaxing throughout the day, and there are smaller drink joints you can check out in the evenings.
United Bar is a tiny bar hidden behind a ‘bahn mi stall’ front (02 Nguyen Chi Thanh, Hai Chau). Walk through the entrance and you’ll find a trendy watering hole with great music. Locals or those in the know frequent this place. You can sit at the small bar counter or choose one of the side tables if you’re there with friends. Sip a tropical cocktail, classic martini or margarita. Alternatively, let the bartender know your drinks preference.
To seek out the entrance to this ‘secret’ 35-seater speakeasy, you need to find the access via a wall of steel gym lockers. This inconspicuous two-storey bar is located beside The Iron Fairies in Thong Lor (406 Sukhumvit Soi 55).
#FindTheLockerRoom was launched by five well-known names in Asia’s cocktail industry: Thailand’s Ronnaporn ‘Neung’ Kanivichaporn and Chennarong Bhumichitr (Mahaniyom Cocktail Bar, Bangkok), Colin Chia (Singapore’s Nutmeg & Clove), Nick Wu (Taipei’s East End), and Hidetsugu Ueno (Tokyo’s Bar High Five). Currently, the bar is 78th spot on Asia’s 100 Best Bars 2023.
Their ‘Past, Present and Future’ concept offers classic cocktails in three renditions, crafted by the various drink experts. Ueno takes charge of the ‘Past’ aka traditional drinks; Wu and Chia weave in modern twists in the ‘Present’, and Neung is responsible for the ‘Future’ inventions.
Launched in September, Lockdown is a new cocktail bar located on Hollywood Road, Central. Agung and Laura Prabowo, the award-winning team behind The Old Man, Penicillin and Dead& are helming this joint, whose concept is inspired by the city’s period of lockdown during the peak of the pandemic.
Located just across the acclaimed Penicillin bar, the entrance is discreetly positioned next to a “Toilet” on Hollywood Road. The 30-seater bar’s interior design uniquely fuses the aesthetic of the Prohibition era with modern Asian touches. Here, the bar team skillfully blends the art of classic cocktails with the latest technology and mixology trends. Their cocktail menu features about 25 handcrafted concoctions divided into three categories: Experimental, Vintage and Remastered Classics.