Lan Kwai Speakeasy pays tribute to the Hong Kong nightlife

Photos by Ina Jacobe

You could say the idea for Lan Kwai started taking shape in December 2015.

It was during that time when Marco Baluyut, along with a few friends, took a trip to Hong Kong to visit one of the country’s famed nightlife hotspots. Lan Kwai Fong is a small set of streets located in Hong Kong’s central district made of bars and restaurants. Marco drank deep from his experience there, taking in all the details that intrigued him — the food and drinks are a given, but also the street art, the neon lights, the feel of a city gritty enough to make the dark of night look like an adventure. Bea Policarpio followed suit in June 2016, going where Marco went — in her words, “shadowing” his trip — and even staying in the same Airbnb, absorbing the details that make the central district a party haven for tourists, locals and expatriates.

Fast forward to August of this year, and Marco and Bea are now the co-owners of Lan Kwai Speakeasy and Hong Kong Cuisine. There are two things that make this unassuming bar and restaurant such a find: 1) It’s in the north (a speakeasy in the north, freakin’ finally); and 2) more to the point, it’s the distillation of two shared experience of travel, a mutual admiration of a place’s culture made manifest. “We fell in love with the place, basically,” Marco says, and it shows.

Run this town: Marco Baluyut and Bea Policarpio, the co-owners of Lan Kwai, were inspired to create the speakeasy after traveling to Hong Kong.

Go through the entrance of Lan Kwai and you’re greeted by a grand mural of a tiger on the side, and an unassuming staircase that leads to where the bar and tables actually are — it wouldn’t be a speakeasy if getting in didn’t take a few extra steps. The second floor is decorated to stay visually faithful to Bea and Marco’s trip to Central: a red neon sign behind the liquor counter, fine china silverware, Chinese newspapers from Binondo plastered on the interior, even an egg carton wall next to the bar, inspired by the interesting decor in Bea and Marco’s Airbnb. “Even our branding is like a collage,” Bea says. “This place is a collage of our experience.” She also notes that design-wise, Lan Kwai is heavily inspired by Hong Kong’s famed Ping Pong 129 bar, which is evident in the establishment’s moody lighting.

For the food, they enlisted the help of Chef Justin Baradas, who runs Restaurant 101 of Enderun Colleges as chef de cuisine, so you know what you’re getting from Lan Kwai isn’t run-of-the-mill bar chow. The Hong Kong Roast Duck Rice and Lemon Chicken Rice are savory as hell, and the Szechuan Chicken Wings are an ideal companion if you’re in the mood for beer.

HK premium: The menu of Lan Kwai was created in collaboration with Justin Baradas, one of the youngest chefs to have run Restaurant 101 of Enderun Colleges. From L-R: Passionfruit Sangria and Szechuan Chicken Wings, Braised Beef Brisket Noodle Soup, Lemon Chicken Rice

But it’s in the drinks part of the menu where things get especially exciting. Marco notes that in Lan Kwai Fong, various bars excel in a different drink — one bar for craft beers, another for gin and tonics, etcetera. At the Lan Kwai speakeasy, you get a whole array of cocktails, gin and tonics, sangrias and fish bowls to choose from. The Gin O’ Clock is strong but deceptively smooth if you’re in the mood for something classy. You might wanna get the Passionfruit Sangria if sweetness is more your speed.

This isn’t to say that this speakeasy is a perfect cultural replica of Hong Kong’s urban nightlife. But that’s kind of what makes Lan Kwai so charming — that it’s a cultural experience reimagined by two people who went on a trip that changed their lives forever. Everything about Lan Kwai comes from a place of wonderment. And the ideal effect is if you come here for a gin and tonic, you might also find yourself notably moved, or at least itching to fly to Central.

Lan Kwai Speakeasy is located at 42 Esteban Abada St., Loyola Heights, Quezon City. You can find their official Facebook page here.

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