Lan Kwai's neon lights and boozy atmosphere looks like a scene straight out of a Wong Kar Wai film
This new watering hole reminds us of Hong Kong
Lit in neon red, with long leather couches lining the walls and upbeat music pulsing in the background, Lan Kwai Speakeasy brings to life to a time and a place more subversive than its actual location in Katipunan.
This small drinking joint was inspired by the travels of couple Bea Policarpio and Marco Baluyut to Hong Kong where they would revel in the shifty yet inviting nightlife at Lan Kwai Fong, the street where Hong Kong’s booziest bars are. It was an experience that they decided to bring back home with them.
To embody the neon-lit establishments of Lan Kwai Fong, the couple looked to the speakeasies of the 1800s for ideas. They found a small space along Esteban Abada and disguised it as a run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant.
The Chinese restaurant isn’t just a façade, though. They actually serve authentic Hong Kong meals with the help of Enderun’s rock star chef Justin Baradas, who is the first student to be appointed as head chef in the culinary school—a position previously entrusted only to established chefs. Baradas also happens to be Baluyut’s good friend from high school. Together, they translated Chinese dishes for the Filipino palate, with Baluyut providing the concept and the chef as the man to make them happen in the kitchen.
Lan Kwai serves Shao Kao skewers (or Hong Kong -style barbecue) and dimsum for diners’ pulutan needs, but for those looking for something more familiar or western, the Chow Chow section of their menu lists dishes like Crazy Rich Asian Nachos, Umami Fries, and Gotta Have Chicken Skin. The one dish that has people coming back for more, though, is their Braised Beef Brisket. This noodle dish, served with boiled egg, bok choy, leeks, and chili garlic, is savory, with a hint of sweet corn.
Carlos Munarriz, another good friend of Baluyut, handles the drinks with his expertise as a mixologist. The drinks are categorized into three, depending on the alcohol base—sangria, gins, and mules—and each category has its own flavors. For the mules, actual ginger is chopped and then placed in soda water, instead of the easier alternative of using ginger ale. Lan Kwai also has its own version of the mai tai called Lan Kwai Tai. This rum-based drink is fruity like punch, with barely the taste of alcohol in it, yet still able to give anyone a nice buzz. It’s best paired with a steaming bowl of the Braised Beef Brisket.
Then there are the classic beers, liquor, and their fish bowl drinks, which are cocktails served in fish bowls. You can choose between the big fish bowl that’s good for three to four people, or the baby-size that’s good for one. For those trying to outdrink each other, get the Designated Survivor: a hard-hitting citrus mixer served with a mystery shot for the last one standing.
At its heart, Lan Kwai is a cozy space where people can come in for different reasons: It can be a place where you can sit and speak easily with friends and colleagues while enjoying a drink. It can also be your go-to restaurant for a good bowl of steaming hot noodles.
The speakeasy’s red neon sign is inspired by Pingpong 129, Bea and Marco’s favorite bar in Hong Kong.