Jay Khan & Ajit Gurung on Coa’s Third Year in a Row as Asia’s Best Bar
July 19, 2023
“I believe that was a ‘f**k yes’,” quips host Mark Sansom, as he tortuously teased the announcement of Asia’s Best Bar 2023 to a crowd that didn’t even try to hold back their chants of joy.
The spotlight glimmers, the atmosphere is taut with tooth-baring smiles, and screams that were about to erupt. The moment has arrived - Coa once again maintained its reign as the top bar on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list.
Stepping into the third year in first place in the continent, it is the first bar to lay claim to this feat. From humble beginnings as a simple passion project by founder Jay Khan, Shin Hing Street’s Coa has transformed the “misunderstood” agave plant into a staple ingredient for cocktail lovers from the city and beyond.
“Six years ago, we opened Coa without having any expectations, without knowing where it would lead us,” Jay reflects, smiling warmly at the crowd in the Rosewood Hotel grand ballroom.
“I was born here, I grew up here, and Hong Kong is everything to me. I've seen Hong Kong evolve from just karaoke bars - there's basically where I started out. I've seen how Hong Kong evolved. And it makes me super proud. I'm very happy to represent Hong Kong.”
Since their debut on the list in 2019, the bar immediately cemented their place as a zesty and smokey force to be reckoned with, as the Highest New Entry Award winner. The Mezcal-centric watering hole has since shot to the top of the chart, thanks to a palpable passion for its main product, authenticity in service, and smart Covid-proof initiatives – like the community-focused Mezcal Mission project - that have continued to impress even post-pandemic.
Other F&B professionals and drinks experts are all buzzing to know the secret formula that has shaken up the scene and shaped half a decade of success.
If there is one, then it surely isn’t going to be revealed anytime soon. Jay retains his gentle-yet-proud expression as he shrugs off questions on Coa’s future strategies, instead bringing emphasis to how his past as a bartender has influenced his responsibilities as a bar owner today.
“I have experienced a lot in my career. And I try to avoid all the negatives. Our emphasis is not really on how [many] sales [we] could make in a day, it's more about whether the staff can do what we're asking them to do, and [for us to] give them equal attention as we give to our business. It's all about keeping the staff happy, happy staff means happy guests. It's an easy formula, and that's what we do.”
“All the staff who’ve been with us since day one. They’ve all taken it [upon themselves to see Coa] as their dream, [as part of] their vision to achieve the best experience for our guests,” adds Head of Operations, Ajit Gurung.
“More than being on the list, one of the biggest compliments we've received [from] the guests, they always say ‘your team looks happy working.’ To have the team laugh and smile when you come to the bar, it's [in] the way they present themselves. I think that's any bar owner's dream, to have the team work like that,” he concludes.
With the drinks industry across the region growing ever closer and more interconnected every day, and the world of spirits and cocktails in Asia continuing to metamorphose with each new opening, the pair at Coa reaffirm their tenacity in sticking to the mission of sharing the best of Mezcal to the world.
“I've been a guest at Coa, and I've been part of the team for almost three years now. What I can say from both perspectives is, we haven't changed our goal from day one till now. Regardless [of] if we're number one, if you have a lot of tourists or a lot of regulars, we're never going to change that. It's in our DNA, it's in our ethos, and that's the whole point,” asserts Ajit.
“Whenever we hire someone, or whenever we train our team, we make sure they understand our values, and then they share [that] with the rest of the people. The best way you know you're doing a good job is when you have a tourist, or you have a first-timer come back the next day bringing new friends, I think that's been a great success for us. We're never going to change that."
Where: Coa, Shop A, LG/F, Wah Shin House, 6 – 10 Shin Hing Street, Central, Hong Kong
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