Jules O’Brien discovers a new hidden gem in Sai Ying Pun, where Spain meets Hong Kong in one enormous glass.
Hidden behind a little red door, tucked among the twists of Sai Ying Pun, lies a staircase leading down into a delightful cavern of Sino-Spanish finesse. This is Ping Pong 129, Hong Kong’s first ‘gintonería’, where gin and tonics are an artform. Stylishly brought to Second Street from Barcelona, Juan Martínez Gregorio and his Hong Kong business partner have transformed an ex-ping pong hall into a novelty creative hideout.
Ping Pong Gintonería hosts Sai Ying Pun’s first and only lounge-style bar that provides a relaxed space in which residents can enjoy a high quality cocktail. “I had been looking for an industrial space like this for ages,” says Juan, who lived in Berlin before spending four years in the ebb and flow of the up and coming creative district. “I knew the space from some friends who played ping pong here. I found it beautiful, and they didn’t know what to do with it,” he continues; “It was clear that Sai Ying Pun was changing and there was a need for a nice space for drinks.”
The driving force behind Ping Pong Gintonería was to find a balance between the identity of Hong Kong’s Western districts and Spanish culture. Underneath the vast ceilings, Ping Pong Gintonería boasts both authentic and neo-Chinese interior design features, such as a red neon sign above the bar to nod at the fact that the space was once a gym. Modernity meets tradition in Hong Kong installation artist Nadim Abbas’ take on the city’s characteristic aluminium window grills, which line the upper walls in an assortment of patterns. A montage of work by photographer Paul Yeung is boldly mounted to one side, while an original calligraphy piece by ‘King of Kowloon’ Tsang Tsou Choi rests against the other.
Though where the interior design prides itself in Hong Kong culture, the drinks are well and truly Spanish. Behind the bar, precision and particularity create the finest gin & tonics to have hit Hong Kong, with a huge range of Spanish imported ingredients. The popular concept of the gintonería blossomed in Spain as the gin & tonic gained repute as the quintessential refreshment on a hot summer’s day. “The weather here is similar to Barcelona, so I thought they would be perfect over here. The gin & tonic can be innovated, and no one has done it before in Hong Kong.”
What, then, are the ingredients for gin & tonic perfection? Upon first entry, the eye will notice bubbles of glass dotted across the tables. These imported copas de balón, or ‘balloon cups’, are filled with jagged chunks of hand-carved ice. “A good gin & tonic is always cold,” explains Juan. “When your drink isn’t cold enough, the ice melts fast, reducing the flavour but leaving a harsh alcohol taste in your mouth.” The glasses themselves ensure the natural aromas of the gin are released and maintained as the tonic bubbles expand, and the long coloured stems prevent your hands from warming the drink.
At Ping Pong, the drinks rely on the use of garnishes to enhance and contrast the flavours of the botanicals of each gin. Expect delicately placed sticks of lavender, juniper berries and an assortment of flowers, while orange peel is lightly swiped around the edge of your glass. The exquisite drinks being the main attraction, the venue hosts an abundance of seating, a sociable smoking area and a mishmash of music, making it the perfect place to unwind. With the volume of new bars rising and falling across Hong Kong, Ping Pong Gintonería is a shining beacon, and we should all look forward to its very bright future.