Lai’s high five: the story of multi-sensory bar Quinary’s endless exploration

William Drew - 07/06/2021

Hong Kong bar Quinary, whose name invokes the power of five senses, has upheld its status as a pioneer in Asia for almost a decade, resulting in it being named Heering Legend of the List at Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2021. Founder Antonio Lai reveals how he stays two shakes ahead of the cocktail competition

Blood and Tears. That’s the name of the drink that Quinary’s founder Antonio Lai created to mark the Hong Kong bar’s newfound status as Heering Legend of the List, a title bestowed by Asia’s 50 Best Bars in May 2021. And it neatly sums up the twin qualities that have driven this perennially brilliant drinking den since its launch almost a decade ago: a relentless exploration of what’s new and a true dedication to great service.

Meet the team behind Quinary:

“This is a recognition of the Quinary family, all former and current team members, for their sweat, blood and tears since 2012,” says Lai of the cocktail, which blends Cherry Heering liqueur, whisky, centrifuged orange juice and sweet vermouth. Typically, drinks on the Quinary menu see classic elements enhanced by modern techniques, which are frequently inspired by the culinary world. The bar's signature drink, the Earl Grey Caviar Martini, was one of the first in the world to employ spherification, a technique pioneered in the legendary kitchen at Spain's El Bulli.

Quinary's signature cocktail, the Earl Grey Caviar Martini

“By understanding the way chefs think and the ingredients and techniques they use, it allows me to create better flavour combinations and make better cocktails,” explains Lai simply. Indeed, Quinary’s current menu is directly linked to street food dishes, not only from Hong Kong and mainland China but across the world. Siu Ap is inspired by the omnipresent Cantonese roast duck featuring duck fat-washed rum, lemon juice, plum sauce and rich honey syrup. La Tomatina is named after a Spanish tomato-fighting festival, blending gin, dry sherry, mezcal and tomato shrub garnished with crispy chorizo.

This innate curiosity feeds Lai and his team’s innovation, which has seen Quinary use technology to enhance the five senses, from which the bar takes its name. “We are still excited to invest in new equipment that allows us to showcase our creative side,” adds Lai. “We have also been working on a new canned beverage project at our factory, hoping to make cocktails more accessible to the public. Adversity often gives rise to new opportunities and prompts us to think with a new mindset. We hope to popularise the idea of cocktail-drinking. If beer and soft drinks can come out of a can, why can’t quality cocktails?”

Three Quinary cocktails on the current Food Market menu: Lolli Rubino; La Tomatina; Big Spice in Little China

A decade of experimentation and reinvention, however, will not alone keep a bar at the forefront of the Asian drinking scene, especially when competition is so fierce. At Quinary, the ultra-modern multi-sensory approach fueled by the in-house R&D cocktail lab is backed by that most old-fashioned of pillars: teamwork. Quinary is known not only as a fun place to frequent, but also a good place to work.

“Teamwork is one of our priorities and we love to see the team grow closer and stronger together,” confirms Lai. “We try to provide our bartenders with the opportunity to travel overseas for guest shifts and global competitions. The exposure and gain are mutual.” This philosophy is reinforced by a comprehensive training programme and investment in high-level equipment, as well as being palpable in interactions with the diverse team.

Kai Ng, Quinary's service-leading bar manager

Having appeared on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars every year since the awards’ inception in 2017, Quinary’s aggregated ranking qualifies it as the Heering Legend of the List for 2021.

“Asia’s 50 Best Bars is a benchmark to show that we have been working hard to bring a positive impact to the bar community,” he says. “People have become more knowledgeable and experienced in drinking since we started.”

Lai himself has notched up more than two decades in the hospitality sector – but shows no sign of becoming jaded. His leadership continues to infuse Quinary and his portfolio of bar businesses in Hong Kong with a forward-thinking spirit. “After 24 years of service, passion is still the most important element to bring,” concludes the legendary Lai.

Missed the live event? Catch up on the virtual ceremony and check out the full results for Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2021, sponsored by Perrier. To stay up to date with all the latest bar news from around the globe, follow us on Instagram, like on Facebook and subscribe to 50 Best Bars TV YouTube channel.