Your insider’s guide to Hong Kong

The Old Man

Sailing the high seas with Hong Kong’s newest bar owners, two of whom are alumni of The Landmark Mandarin Oriental

Words: Janice Leung Hayes

The Old Man

Opened by a trio of bar professionals – two of whom are alumni of The Landmark Mandarin Oriental – The Old Man is one of Hong Kong’s newest independent bars, and it quickly became the hottest.

The Old Man is inspired by Ernest Hemingway and his famous work, The Old Man and The Sea. As new entrepreneurs, Agung Prabowo, James Tamang and Roman Ghale have a lot to learn from the book. Ghale recites a quote from it, “A man can be destroyed but not defeated,” and comments, “That’s a perfect line”.

They’re sailing the high seas of a new business armed with their experience gained at top hotels, but going out on their own can take some adjusting.

“[Working] at hotels, there’s a lot of support from other departments. Just press ‘enter’ [on a computer] and someone will come and help you, but here, you press ‘enter’ and no-one comes,” Prabowo jokes. “You have to do everything yourself.”

The Old Man - Interior  The Old Man - Death in the Afternoon

“Hotels discipline you in various ways. You need to be there on time, you need to prepare things [on schedule], these are thing you learn and carry with you all your life, not only in your career. It becomes a habit over time,” says Tamang.

Ghale adds, “We learned attention to detail, everything you touch and feel, from the products to customer service.”

“The standards [at hotels] are very high,” says Prabowo, and the three of them clearly benefited from their respective hotel experiences, so that, Prabowo adds, “even though you’re not at a hotel, at The Old Man, you can have a hotel-level experience.”

Much like their endeavour, their cocktails are also built upon years of experience, but they do anything except stick to the classics.

Each drink at the bar is inspired by Hemingway’s work and life – it’s no secret that he loved the bottle a little too much. Prabowo says, “We’re not like him [in that] we are not alcoholics, but we’re drinkers. He’s a person who travelled the world and contributed a lot to the drinking culture. He drank everything, basically.”

His name lives on, of course, in the Hemingway Daiquiri, and while it’s not on the menu at The Old Man, they make a mean one.

The Old Man - Interior  The Old Man - Interior

Their menu consists of experimental flavours, aided by high-end gadgets that are on proud display, becoming a backdrop of sorts to the bar.

“We use a lot of culinary gadgets here. It’s more of a science lab,” says Tamang, while pointing out a rotary evaporator (“it costs as much as a Tesla,” he adds).

The rotary evaporator, is [used] to [re-]distill spirits. To balance out the aromas, we can use that. For example, if I want to make our own Old Man gin, I can use a high proof alcohol, and add the botanicals that I want, and make my own gin. That’s one of the ways that helps with our experimentation. We make curry leaf gin, marshmallow gin, and these are things you can’t just find on the market easily.”

Prabowo adds, “Most bartenders play it safe when they’re creating cocktails. Sweet and sour, sour and sweet, and people love it, but we want to be experimental and do something different because we just want to break the formulae a bit.”

One of their bestselling cocktails is The Snows of Kilimanjaro, a cocktail made with their re-distilled marshmallow gin, house-fermented raspberries and topped with grated Gruyère cheese. Tamang says, “A lot of guests ask, ‘Cheese? Are you serious?’ but this is experimentation. No-one put cheese on a cocktail, so we [tried it],” and it seems their bets are paying off.

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