The beloved gastropub, opened in 2016 by The Ale Project, May Chow and Young Master Ales, announced its closure over social media

It’s the end of a chapter for Second Draft, the one-of-a-kind gastropub that has been part of the Tai Hang community since it opened in 2016. On 12 January, the team announced over social media that they would be shutting their doors on 11 February 2022—not because of the pandemic, or for other plans, but because their lease would not be renewed by their landlord, Little Tai Hang.

It’s a disappointing decision considering how much of an impact Second Draft has had on the local community—it’s a place that championed local traditions and talent, with a refreshingly inventive menu anchored in Hong Kong flavours, and one of the best craft beer programmes in the city. The original menu concept was developed by May Chow of Little Bao, who described Second Draft at the time as “an opportunity for our own self-discovery, to learn new techniques and ingredients.” That meant putting things on the menu like squid ink croquettes with the umami funk of dried oysters; flower crab pasta that’s tossed with splashes of sweet ginger vinegar, or the now-iconic mapo burrata. Personally, I’ll miss a lot of the dishes here, not least the most addictive cumin- and chilli-spiked Tai Hang fries with generous sprinkling of preserved mustard greens—the perfect umami-packed accompaniment to many of the fresh brews on tap.

Since the announcement, fans have expressed both sadness and outrage, and others have reflected on what Second Draft means to them. For architect Betty Ng, who used to live in Tai Hang, the space offered both solace and inspiration in the period when she was starting up her architectural design firm, Collective. "I started going there because of the large selection of craft beers and their delicious food," she tells us. "I slowly got to know their staff better and was very drawn to Second Draft being a very welcoming place for solo diners, thanks to their big bar counter that has become the centre of the restaurant. 

"I became a regular because I was working a lot starting up Collective solo at that time and I needed a comfortable place to eat and relax at the end of the day. There were many fond memories I have of standing outside, having a beer and chatting with new acquaintances, whom now have become my friends, and I sincerely felt like it was an extension of my home at that time when I was living in Tai Hang. It is sad to hear that Second Draft is closing—I think it was one of the very genuine and successful examples of how F&B has brought people together. The liveliness of Second Draft has contributed to the vibrancy of Tai Hang significantly and I hope they will find a new home soon." 

While it’s natural to feel angst about something we can’t control, we remain hopeful that if one door closes, another will open
Rohit Dugar

Likewise, the bar was a place where Chokohood founder Katie Chan could sit down and decompress after a long day of planning her chocolate business. Chan's cafe, situated just a few doors down from Second Draft, may be a new addition to the neighbourhood but she is no stranger to the street. A chocolate and craft beer pairing workshop at Second Draft was one of her first experiences at the bar, which then sparked a curiosity about craft brews. "I had more chances to get beer takeaway or have a beer there when we were planning and renovating for Chokohood, because it was a place to sit down and destress.

"It's sad to know our neighbour is closing," she tells us. "Their beer makes my life feel better after a busy day of work."

Back when we launched the 2017 edition of the Tatler Dining Awards, Second Draft was a landslide favourite in the Readers’ Choice for Best New Restaurant. As a venue that was so unabashedly different and yet respectful of Hong Kong culture—seen in the nostalgia of the colour scheme and wooden booths that referenced the Star Ferry, as well as the food and drink—Second Draft carved its own niche in the neighbourhood. The horseshoe-shaped bar was great for solo drinkers out for a pint as well as friends meeting up for happy hour, and the communal tables open and inviting for larger groups. As one voter put it: “Second Draft is maverick. In the city's homogeneously hipsterised dining scene, it perfectly marries craft beer with actually inventive fusion food, without feeling forced. It is a bar and restaurant that Hong Kong can call its own.” 

See also: 21 of the Most Exciting Craft Beer Brands Brewing in Asia

The closure echoes the fate of The Ale Project in the summer of 2020, when they were forced to shutter their original branch on Hak Po Street in Mongkok due to their landlord increasing their rent by 50 per cent during the pandemic, also six years into operation. In response, the Young Master team created the cheeky 72 Tenants brew, a bitter grapefruit IPA to sum up their feelings in a pour—and will be bringing back the beer for Second Draft’s final days. As I wrote at the time, the beer was a summary of the bittersweet feeling of bidding farewell to a humble craft beer institution, brought to its untimely end by the antagonism between tenant and landlord, in the most appropriate way. Fortunately for TAP, they were able to find a new location—in a sweet twist, it is literally a few doors down on the same street—and reopened soon after. Will Second Draft also find a way to continue? We hope so.

Until then, the bar will be hosting a series of send off events, from a cocktail-themed weekend on 15-16 January with bar manager Kat, to an American brewhouse tap takeover on 29 January. On 6 February, the space will host their final brunch with pop-up smokehouse Smokin' Kok. Finally, 11 February will be Second Draft's last day of operation—and the team invite you to come by one last time to share a beer and say 'see you later'. 

“Second Draft is a stalwart of the Young Master Eats family and has always enjoyed unwavering support from the community. While it’s natural to feel angst about something we can’t control, we remain hopeful that if one door closes, another will open,” says Young Master Ales founder Rohit Dugar. “Our commitment to cultivating the vibrant ecosystem around craft beer and imagining it in a local context remains unwavering.”

Second Draft will close on 11 February 2022

Second Draft

Causeway Bay
$ $ $ $
© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.