Inventive design draws guests and locals alike at Argo bar in Hong Kong

By LISA KLEIN

There are hotel bars that guests pop by for a quick drink because they are staying on-site, and there are hotel bars whose design, menus and vibe bump them up to places to see and be seen for both tourists and locals.

Argo, opened last July inside the Four Seasons Hong Kong, is one of the latter, inviting consumers in at any time of day. It was named the No. 1 “Coolest Bar in the World” for 2021 by Time Out magazine thanks to innovative design by ab concept and beverage manager Lorenzo Antinori’s rotating cocktail menu using seasonal ingredients.

“We tried to convey a neo-classical feeling with a modern interpretation of a conservatory, where people come to enjoy breakfast, a power lunch or even a nightcap in a memorable environment,” said Ed Ng, principal and cofounder of ab concept, which started in Hong Kong and now also has offices in Tokyo, Taipei and Milan.

“Of course, it goes without saying that the backdrop of an unobstructed view of Victoria Harbor also helps to enhance the overall experience,” he said.

Stay all day

Mr. Ng’s design firm is well-versed in creating spectacular luxury hospitality spaces, working on projects for the Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Waldorf Astoria in London, Kuala Lumpur, Bali and Taipei, among others.

“As a designer of experiences, we start with the function, where we tackle all the needs of a space, and then we start adding the soul, the inspiration, to realize our narrative,” Mr. Ng said.

“We think that this feeling is something that’s not related to cost or a specific material that is used, but instead the element of luxury comes from the story and the experience we want to create,” he said.

Appealing to the masses is no easy feat, but ab concept considers the needs of both guests and the general public when designing hotel spaces to cast the widest net.

“Bars and restaurants are no longer a place just for food and drinks, especially when it comes to these spaces within hotels – we want to give them a standalone personality,” Mr. Ng said.

“Restaurants should be treated as a mini getaway space within the hotel, with its own distinctive personality and experience, where you have both the ability to impress the stay-in guest and, perhaps more importantly, the local community,” he said.

The design for hospitality spaces always starts with operational concerns. Argo was conceptualized as a place that would function from breakfast to high tea to a nightlife hotspot.

“After we established how the space needed to function, we could then craft the experience through the design details that come into play through different times of the day,” Mr. Ng said.

“I put myself in the place of the guest,” he said. “If I’m having breakfast at Argo and feel that I’ve already seen everything and nothing changes at nighttime, why would I want to come back again in the evening?”

Space to explore

From a focus on the main bar, to walls lined with cushy booths perfect for both eating and lounging, to a dining room that offers a bit more privacy, each space within Argo meticulously echoes its theme: exploration and curiosity. The name even comes from the Greek myth about explorers, Jason and the Argonauts.

“I wanted to create something visual that inspired curiosity, so at the circular main bar we created revolving cylinders wrapped with false shagreen around the column,” Mr. Ng said. “A certain number of them open and close gradually in its transition throughout different times of the day, revealing the rare spirits that head bartender Lorenzo Antinori diligently sourced.”

In the dining room, mirrored walls and handcrafted paper sculptures of butterflies and other insects have an instant impact upon walking in, while looking at them more closely reveals intricate details.

“Located right in the heart of the Central District, our objective was to create the most luxurious hospitality space in Hong Kong and a true destination bar,” Mr. Ng said.

Ab concept is now hard at work on designing more high-end restaurants and lounges within the Four Seasons to complement the newly elevated Argo bar and lobby.

“We really enjoy designing food and beverage spaces because, in most cases, this is the most visible space in a hotel – it’s the place that sets the tone,” Mr. Ng said.

“Unless they’re having a staycation, hotel restaurants and bars are where the local population goes to enjoy [the hotel],” he said. “They’re a place to celebrate, to impress and to create memories.”