Cover Agung Prabowo. behind the bar at Penicillin (Photo: Courtesy of Penicillin)

The co-founders of what eventually became Asia’s Best Bar have unveiled two new projects in Central

“All good things must come to an end,” read the start of an Instagram post on 30 September by Agung Prabowo, one of the founders of The Old Man—one of Hong Kong’s top bars that was once declared the best in Asia. The bar on Aberdeen Street, which Prabowo opened in collaboration with partners James Tamang and Roman Ghale in 2017, is a true original in regards to its freewheeling, innovative approach to cocktails primarily inspired by Ernest Hemingway. The same year, the bar won our Best Cocktails award and, shortly after, received the first of many international plaudits with a striking debut at #5 on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list in 2018—followed by the top position in 2019 , only losing out to Singapore’s Jigger & Pony in the most recent ranking in 2020.

Prabowo and Ghale have swiftly moved onto their next project—or projects, rather. Penicillin, a new sustainability-focused bar, launched in late October and is a joint project with their partners, Laura Prabowo and Katy Ghale, as well as Betty Ng of award-winning architectural design firm, Collective. The bar aims to be the first in Hong Kong to champion a closed-loop system of production—in layman terms, the team will work towards minimal waste, with offcuts and scraps normally thrown away in the cocktail making process going back into the cycle to be reused and upcycled. Bars with a similar philosophy include Native in Singapore, where techniques such as lacto-fermentation are a primary way of dealing with fruit skins and scraps after the flesh has been juiced, and the much-missed London bars by pioneering mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana, one of the first to champion closed-loop and zero waste cocktails.

Related: Is This The Future Of Zero Waste Bartending?

Prabowo tells us however that the inspiration behind Penicillin is more aligned with Noma, the famed Copenhagen restaurant that is known for their experimental methods and sustainability-forward philosophy. To that end, the bar will also feature The Penicillin Lab, a focal point that will showcase all the processes behind the team’s experimental cocktail creations; the space also features a Fermentation Chamber where visitors can witness the transformation of ingredients in their various stages. 

Ng has also been brought on to design both bar projects—and both will be her first in the F&B space (Collective’s most recent projects include O.N.S., Kapok, and even the Tatler Asia office here in Hong Kong). “Roman and Agung wanted to work with someone who hadn’t necessarily designed for F&B before,” Ng tells us. To them, the fresh perspective would mean that the design of the bars wouldn’t be a simple copy and paste of what had already been done before. “They’ve been really open and hardworking,” she continues. “For them to keep pushing for something new and different in this current climate—and taking risks—is something that is completely aligned with Collective’s own philosophy. And that’s why I decided to be a part of this project.”

The second bar, opened just a week after Penicillin, is Dead & (pronounced “dead end”) and is located at the end of Central’s Wo On Lane—the part closest to the open amphitheatre that’s popular for impromptu al fresco drinks. Loosely inspired by a dive bar, the venue is a contrast to Penicillin, and far more relaxed—not to mention about three times smaller. Both projects have been well received and, given the team's track record, will be strong contenders for future best bars lists. 

With 2020 being one of the most difficult years on record for the F&B industry, the fact that these bar veterans are charging forward to bring something new for Hong Kong is something to be commended—it seems they might just hold the cure for us all.

Penicillin, L/G, Amber Lodge, 23 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong

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