You never know what’s going to happen next with Holly Graham – and she wouldn’t have it any other way. The international managing editor of DRiNK Magazine – Asia’s leading bar industry platform –, Graham also launched Asia Women in Booze as a platform for championing women in the regional bar industry prior to Covid-19. In 2022, she wrote Cocktails of Asia, a recipe book on, well, the cocktails of Asia and the stories behind them. Since then, Graham has moved on to her latest project: opening her own bar, Tokyo Confidential, in the Japanese capital.
Graham is a multi-hyphenate with an electric personality who has lived so many different lives in the bar scene alone: journalist, judge, educator, advocate and mixologist. Earlier this year, Bar World 100 ranked her #9 on its list of the global bar industry’s most influential figures. While it’s anyone’s guess what she’ll get up to next, one thing’s for sure and that’s her immense knowledge around the Asian bar circuit. Here, she distills the reasons why she thinks Asia has the best cocktail scene, and shares where the discerning cocktail enthusiast should go when they’re in the region.
“In my opinion, Asia has the best cocktail scene. It just feels more welcoming. When I walk into a bar in Asia, I feel like I can talk to anyone, and that there’s more of a convivial vibe there. Whereas in places like New York and London, it can be a little bit intimidating sometimes – and I say that as a Londoner myself. I think it’s the community that makes the difference.
Asia has the best cocktail scene – it just feels more welcoming
Some bars may think that their drinks are the most important thing, but I would argue that hospitality is equally, perhaps more, important. You may not always remember the drinks you’ve had, but you’ll always remember how you felt. If a drink makes you feel a kind of way too, that’s great. But more often than not, it’s the warmth and hospitality will make you feel special rather than the actual beverage.
We’re starting to see more dialled-in, thoughtful concepts in Asia, in general. In terms of the landscape, Hong Kong and Singapore are the obvious market leaders. Singapore in particular is probably what comes to mind when people think of bartending in Asia, because they’ve been a leader where it comes to big, glamourous hotel bars. There’s lately also been a wave of more independent bars like No Sleep Club and Sago House.
More often than not, it’s the warmth and hospitality that will make you feel special rather than the actual beverage
Some countries that I’m excited to watch grow in the next few years include India, whose scene I feel doesn’t get the love and attention that it deserves. Vietnam is another one to watch – the recipes coming out of there have been extremely experimental and interesting, way beyond what other people are doing. Unfortunately, it might be that they don’t have the budget to get the recognition that they deserve, for instance in terms of bringing out guest bartenders or marketing their bars. But the city has a number of things going for it: Vietnam’s one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, the start-up costs are low there and the tourism industry is really big. Everyone’s also really passionate and they’re doing some really cool stuff.
Malaysia and Bangkok have witnessed a boom, and though they’ve since slowed down a little bit, they’re still definitely up there. I think Asia’s 50 Best next year will be really exciting, because this has the first year since everything properly reopened after Covid-19, but you still had places like Hong Kong and Japan that have only been open since October 2022, really. By next year, the world would have been fully reopened for 18 months, and I think then we’ll see how the game has shifted.”
Cocktail bars in Asia not to be missed
From Ho Chi Minh City to Pune, these are some are some of Holly Graham’s top recommendations for cocktail bars in Asia:
the Pi, Ho Chi Minh City
An experimental-minded bar that champions females in the industry.
Savoury Project, Hong Kong
Opened by the same folks behind the award-winning COA, Savoury Project makes phenomenal drinks that shine a spotlight on savoury ingredients such as beef stock and tomato.
Sidecar, New Delhi
Masters of hospitality, Sidecar is the beacon of India’s booming cocktail scene.
Cobbler & Crew, Pune
A women-owned, sustainability-minded bar with a fabulous team.
Sago House, Singapore
An independent bar with excellent drinks and hospitality, Sago House is currently in the midst of moving to a second location. Keep an eye on their social media for more information.
To learn more about Singapore Airlines’ flights to the abovementioned places, visit the official website.