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.

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