Where To Drink The Best Gibson Cocktails In Hong Kong
Thanks to Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, the lesser appreciated cousin of the martini is finally having its moment in the spotlight
Cocktails with a savoury hit are divisive even at their best, but the Gibson may well be among one of the most underrated drinks, overlooked in favour of the more marketable Martini. Essentially, a Gibson is a Martini with the sole difference of its garnish—a pickled onion rather than an olive or a lemon twist, which may explain why it’s something of a love-it-or-hate-it cocktail. In our eyes, the piquant, vinegary, salty hit of a perfectly pickled onion (usually a small pearl variety, with tender layers and a delicate crunch) is the perfect punch among the icy coolness of vodka/gin and vermouth. Lore has it that the drink was created in the early 20th century, thanks to the request of graphic artist Charles Dana Gibson, who asked for a new and improved version of the martini while visiting a social club in Manhattan; in response, perhaps sarcastically, the bartender dropped in a cocktail onion instead of the usual, more accepted garnish.
While the Gibson has had a long history, it’s been relatively under the radar for decades—that all may change now, given its solid recurring role in Netflix’s runaway hit The Queen’s Gambit. The humble Gibson, understated and clear as ice, bookmarks several milestones in protagonist Elizabeth Harmon’s life journey to becoming a world-class chess player, and features significantly in one of the most poignant scenes in the series’ final chapters (is that just a pickled onion bringing tears to our eyes?). If you’ve never had one—or have previously turned your nose up at one—then head to these bars for the best versions in Hong Kong. We promise you'll be a convert.
At this Central cocktail bar, the Gibson is treated with the recognition and respect it deserves. “The Gibson is often mistreated,” says bartender John Nugent. “Shaken, over diluted, and not pleasant unless you just like cold watery vodka. Typical Gibsons are made with gross cocktail onions, too.” At The Diplomat, the cocktail is batched for consistency and kept in the fridge at a very cold temperature. Their Gibson is a mixture of vodka, fino sherry and bianco vermouth—they also add a touch of saline to enhance the saltiness of the fino and complement the sweetness of the vermouth. When it’s time to serve, the cocktail is poured through crushed ice into a chilled coupe glass for extra frostiness, and garnished with their secret weapon: the pickled Japanese rakkyo shallot.
Tip: if you’re apprehensive, this cocktail is also featured under the “Minis” section of smaller format cocktails.
The Diplomat, Shop 1, LG/F, H Code, 45 Pottinger Street, Central, Hong Kong
The Old Man
Nothing is ordinary at The Old Man, and that’s including their Gibson. Created by bartender Mandeep Ghale, the cocktail is a classy little number that makes use of The Botanist Islay dry gin, vermouth, and a few dashes of orange bitters, garnished with a pickled Japanese onion—selected for its slightly milder taste and softer texture—infused with black lava salt and vinegar for a few hours for the ultimate salty-sour punch.
“Since the Gibson is a spirit forward drink, I just wanted to make it little more approachable,” explains Ghale. “The onion plays the key role in this drink. The taste is complex and umami.”
The Old Man, Lower G/F, 37-39 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong
For Lorenzo Antinori, the drinks menu at Caprice Bar is all about introducing French elements into his cocktail offerings. Appropriately, his Gibson is a mix of gin and vodka that is enhanced with the addition of vin jaune from Jura and a splash of still water. Like The Diplomat’s, the cocktail is batched so that they can control the temperature and dilution level, and is kept in the freezer for at least six hours before serving straight from the frozen bottle, tableside.
“The liquid gets a beautiful creamy texture,” says Antinori. “Of course, the garnish is a silverskin onion, pickled in vinegar, wine, sugar and spices.” The icing on the cake? They also serve nuggets of 40-months Comté on the side for that extra umami hit.
Caprice Bar, 6/F, Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong
This Kowloon cocktail bar is one of our favourites for classic cocktails, so it’s top of mind when it comes to an oldie like the Gibson. Their version uses French T&T vodka or Widges London Dry gin (depending on your preference), along with riesling for acidity and sweetness, Mancino vermouth secco, Mancino vermouth bianco, Tio Pepe fino sherry, and onion essence. It’s a complex drink that you want to savour—but not too slowly, as it’s best enjoyed extra cold.
Darkside, 2/F, Rosewood Hong Kong, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Mizunara The Library
At a sophisticated Japanese bar such as Mizunara The Library, you can expect the classics to be executed with finesse and precision. Masahiko Endo takes a more pragmatic approach with Martin Berasategui branded cocktail onions (two to each glass, for extra punch), and a very precise ratio (7:1) of Beefeater gin and Dolin dry vermouth.
Mizunara The Library, 4/F, Kiu Yin Commercial Building, 361-363 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
St Regis Bar
The St Regis Hong Kong's jewel box of a bar is another go-to for a contemporary spin on the Gibson, which bar manager Mario La Pietra describes as a crossover between a traditional Gibson and a Dirty Martini. Guests can opt for a vodka or gin base (the team recommend the Distillerie de Paris Gin Tonik or London Dry Gin, which is less floral and more juniper-driven), and the cocktail is constructed with Mancino Vermouth Secco and stirred over ice in a small Pompadour crystal coupe.
The team serve two pickled Borretana onions, a small flat variety, on the side and also add a splash of the pickling brine mixed with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil to add additional layers of acidity and sweetness.
The St Regis Bar, The St Regis Hong Kong, 1 Harbour Drive, Wan Chai, Hong Kong