Despite the pandemic, 99 Bottles assures Hong Kongers that they are “here to stay”

Despite the pandemic, 99 Bottles assures Hong Kongers that they are “here to stay”
Source: 99 Bottles Instagram

Hong Kong’s beloved Peel street isn’t only known for its painfully steep uphill but also, for its rows of popular bars.

Among the plethora of flashing neon lights that gather crowds of energized partygoers is 99 Bottles where every hour is happy hour. Once you’ve discovered 99 Bottles there’s no going anywhere else because why would you? The prices are lower than most bars in the area, making it a prime spot to get silly on your Saturday night.

The nightlife

Despite being surrounded by some of the hottest bars in SoHo, the atmosphere at 99 Bottles is anything but competitive. “It is a true community where managers are constantly popping into each others’ bars for drinks or just a chat,” said the 99 Bottles team in an interview with TMS.

But 99 Bottles does more than just woo the crowd with its incredible prices and classic 90s tunes. “We have molded our bar around the little pedestrian-only cul-de-sac on the top of Peel Street, and it is an obvious spot for people to get in on the action.”

Just by being situated on Peel Street, 99 Bottles has an immediate advantage. However, the main reason why people keep coming back is because of the unpretentious and laid-back environment created by their staff and their manager – Jonathan. “The staff are in it to have a good time and it shows.”

“The atmosphere on a Saturday is absolutely amazing.” By 10 p.m., waves of different people stumble in and out of the bar, making every encounter distinct and unexpected. For the 99 Bottles team, their energy is easily kept alive with the refreshing thrill and enthusiasm that’s reborn every night as according to them, “this is when our daily stresses and hangovers from the night before disappear and the street comes alive.”

For 99 Bottles founders Chris Tsao, Geoffrey Wong, and James Graham, the idea for this bar concept stemmed from the notion of “alfresco" drinking – drinking outside and on the streets.

Especially in the SoHo and Lang Kwai Fong area, “alfresco" drinking has become embedded into the night scene as the streets become a common ground for chatting and talking between bars. Those who are familiar with Hong Kong nightlife, are well acquainted with having to queue at convenience stores for a drink, or also known as, “club 7-11." As a way of ditching the over priced drinks and the bar, people ‘pregame’ by the local 7-11.

“The breaking point for one of our founders came when he witnessed a friend queuing at a convenience store for 10 minutes to buy a corona and a pack of pickled mandarin peels to stuff it into the corona as a replacement for a lime.”

This was how 99 Bottles was born. “We were the first bar in town to come up with a sexy convenience store with soul, backed by the friendliest bar staff in town having as much fun as you are, with the best prices and variety for craft beers and mixed drinks in town to boot. We have poured our souls into making a place that has something to offer for everyone no matter what kind of night out they want.”

Appropriately, the name itself pays homage to the convenience store nightlife as 9-9, doesn’t sound too far off from 7-11. It’s something that seemed to have caught on as most of their regulars just call them “9-9,” and there is no doubt that 99 Bottles has redefined happy hour as partygoers are no longer restricted to a certain time frame.

When deciding on craft beers to feature in their bar, several things are taken into account. The design elements of the bottle as many customers do judge the beer by its cover. Grabbing the limited releases from different breweries keeps the customers fascinated with the various unique options. According to the 99 Bottles, the sour ale from the Australian brewery Moon Dog called “In the Crumble, the Mighty Crumble," is their most underrated and interesting beer with its blends of sour but sweet undertones.

Their classic 99 O.G. house beer remains a winner for many returning customers. But what many don’t know is the story of this beer pays a tribute to Jonathon, 99 Bottles manager.

Jonathon originally planned to move back to the United Kingdom after three years working at the bar and therefore, as an appreciation, 99 O.G was created with his face on the design for the beer. Adding on to this, the flavor is very specific to Jonathan’s favorite style which is “a real juicy pale ale."

According to the team, “after talking to Black Kite Brewery about flavor profiles we finally landed on a beer that was hoppy (but still easy drinking if you want to have more than five beers), citrusy, zesty, not too bitter on the finish and 5% so we don’t have people rolling down the hill!”

As 99 Bottles becomes more and more popular in the Hong Kong nightlife scene, collaborations with other bars have been knocking on their door. More recently, Hong Kong Beer Co. and 99 Bottles have recently created a summer ale called 99 Summer Ale, which is a half pilsner, half wheat mix with a lovely fruity flavor to enjoy at any time of the day.

Expanding to other locations around Hong Kong is something that 99 Bottles sees itself pushing toward.

“It is one thing to have one smash hit bar, it is entirely another thing to be able to replicate it across multiple locations.” Keeping the core part of their concept, which is alfresco, no-frills drinking, reasonably priced drinks, and a laid-back atmosphere, are all things that would have to be replicated.

With COVID-19 harshly hitting the F&B industry, 99 Bottles have had their fair share of ups and downs. With all the semi lockdowns and restrictions implemented, they have noticed that many customers have not been frequenting the bar like they used to.

In order to compensate for the lost income due to the restrictions, 99 Bottles have resorted to takeouts and deliveries. However, despite the hardships of COVID-19, 99 Bottles has a message to their customers, “our regulars need not worry – we are here to stay.”