We’re ending 2014 on a high with an amazing That Girl! This December we’re featuring the brains behind one of the coolest new bars in town, Victoria Chow of The Woods. Conveniently set on Hollywood Road, The Woods has taken the cocktail scene by storm with its creativity and close attention and care to details. From the the slick design of the bar to the flavourful, original drinks, The Woods is definitely somewhere you want to see and be seen… We catch up with Victoria about how she came up with the concept for this awesome new bar, what her dreams are for the future of The Woods and what her top night out in Hong Kong would entail…
Fill us in on you background and where you grew up. How did you end up in Hong Kong?
I was born in California and travelled a lot between Hong Kong and San Francisco with my family before settling here for secondary school. I had California callin’ to me so I went back for university in UC Berkeley where I studied Mass Communications and Art History. After graduating, I saw a lot of potential for work in Asia so back to Hong Kong I came!
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live on Bowen Road, which I love for the relative quiet and a good place to jog and walk my dog. I surround myself with books (mostly about cocktails and designing events) and photographs that remind me of my travels and my friends abroad. I also have a cabinet where I store miniature bottles of liquor I collect from each country I visit!
How do you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
I love basics and neutral colours, and comfort is key – not very exciting, I know! I do love pieces with asymmetrical cuts and paint-like patterns such as those from Helmut Lang, and adding accents through oversized sunglasses and brightly coloured nails. I think every girl looks best when she’s comfortable and her style looks effortless.
Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I spend way too much time online shopping for clothes. For actual in-store experiences, I love looking for glassware and knick-knacks I can use at the bar on Shanghai Street, the Flower Market, and Sham Shui Po. Wet markets are my favourite places. It’s where I get inspired by seasonal produce and get drawn in by the colours and the energy.
What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
Coconut oil is my must-have – I use it for both my skin and my hair and I believe it’s a cure-all! My sisters and I also like buying different local ‘specialties’ when we travel, such as Manuka Honey balms from New Zealand, Dead Sea mud wraps from Jordan and Argan Oil from Morocco. They’re generally all-natural and work wonders. I use very minimal make-up – all I have in my purse is a NARS eyeliner and Neutrogena lip balm.
As for hair and nails, I’m not loyal to any particular place, and I love doing my own nails so I can change colours whenever the mood strikes.
Give us your itinerary for the perfect night out in Hong Kong?
This is one I give to my friends from out of town when they visit so it’s more tourist-oriented:
Sundowner drinks aboard the Aqua Luna or at Sevva. Dinner at The Pawn or Mott 32. Post-dinner drinks at Tai Lung Fung or Fu Lu Shou. See what all the fuss is about at Dragon-I. Then a nightcap at Captain’s Bar (if you finish early) or good ol’ Tsui Wah (if you go into the wee hours!).
For myself… my perfect night is a lot less ritzy. I’d start with a bottle of wine anywhere al fresco, followed by a sake-fuelled dinner at Yardbird, then wrapping it up over some jukebox music and craft beers at The Globe.
What’s your regular watering-hole spot?
The Globe! Outside of work, I get a bit of cocktail-fatigue and all I crave is wine and beer. There’s no better place for craft beers, zero pretention, and great staff that make me feel like I’m in my very own episode of Cheers.
What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
– Duddell’s for their boozy dim sum brunches and amazing terrace
– Yardbird for their too-cool-for-school vibe, fun staff, and delicious skewers
– Caprice Bar for the perfect wine and cheese experience
– Sushi Sase for the best omakase meal (see some other sushi options here!)
– Posto Pubblico for the no-frills pasta and homemade burrata
– Mrs. Pound for their funky take on Asian street food
– Nocturne for the intimate and low-lit spot fit for whisk(e)y
– Can I say The Woods here? 🙂
I love gin, so Sipsmith with tonic and St. George’s Terroir on the rocks are my go-tos. Two of the most popular cocktails at The Woods (that also happen to be my favourites) are also gin-based – The Gin Basil Smash (you’ll have to request it as it’s an off-the-menu item now!) and Camomile Bee’s Knees.
You were a photographer and graphic designer before – what inspired you to start The Woods and move into F&B?
I’ve had all these crazy ideas about bars and cocktails building up in my head (and in a folder on my desktop) for years that I never thought would really amount to much more than some experimentations at home and perhaps a bit of blogging (my attempt is here: www.thedrawingboard.hk). It wasn’t until I talked them out to my family and to-be-investors that it sounded more and more real when I finally decided the time was right in Hong Kong for a cocktail bar like this, and I took the leap and quit my job at an events agency!
Do you think your experience in design and photography has helped you with the concept of The Woods?
My background is predominantly in event production and branding, but I’ve always taken on graphic design and photography freelance projects on the side. All these experiences have played a huge role in The Woods. My thought-process is quite different from most mixologists in that I always visualise a drink first (in my head and on a sketch book) the way I do when I design graphics and events.
I also do my own branding for the bar and photography for our active social media channels (Facebook and Instagram). All these helped build a cohesive look & feel – from drinks, to interior design, to menus, to Facebook page, which I feel is crucial to building a strong brand.
Biggest challenges you’ve faced opening up a bar in HK?
Rent (nothing new here) and staffing. I am incredibly lucky to have such an amazing team to work with that are practically family now, but it certainly didn’t come quickly! The F&B industry is a competitive one when it comes to hiring!
How did you come up with concept?
I always thought cocktails were very under-appreciated as a culinary art form. It is true that just as much thought and skill goes into making a great drink as it does into making a great dish. I wanted to really draw attention to that and also learn from chefs in their use of seasonal ingredients and paying close attention to every little component that goes into the dish by using freshly squeezed juices, artisanal liquors with varying flavour profiles, garnishes and unique plating and glassware. The 4-course Prix Fixe menu really drives home this idea by reversing the focus of the pairing to put the cocktail in the centre, and the food as supplements on the side.
What are plans for the future? Any other projects/openings in the making?
We definitely plan to offer more bespoke cocktail catering and experiences for events outside of the bar itself where we can get really creative with set-ups and serving methods and not just be another boring bar offering ‘standard drinks’ and house wines! We especially like tailoring things for specific occasions or brands.
As for new openings… yes, but I can’t say much about them yet, so stay tuned!
What makes a good bar?
There are so many components to it, but for me, a good bar must not be afraid to try new things, and have great staff who are not pretentious and can help guide you to your perfect drink!
Your drinks are so creative with their flavour and presentation. How do you come up with them/what inspires you?
I like doodling, walking through wet markets to see what’s in season, drawing inspiration from art works (for presentation) and food (for flavours) and, my guilty pleasure, browsing on Pinterest. All those put together on a giant mood board is how I usually brainstorm new ideas!
You work with your sisters – has it made things easier as a business?
It certainly is a huge plus for one of the most important aspects of business – trust. I can count on them for anything and not be afraid of someone running away with my ideas or taking advantage of me. They are also available 24/7 for panicked calls and rants in the middle of the night, or an extra hand at busy events! They have been my biggest believers and there is no way any of this would have happened without them.
Any advice for those wanting to go into the F&B industry?
I know it sounds clichéd, but love what you do, and it’ll show. This applies for any industry, really. Also, it’s always about keeping yourself relevant, as there is always something new opening down the road. We took this challenge heads on by offering a seasonal menu that changes every 3 months, and a Prix Fixe menu that changes every 2! With this on top of our pop-up events like Fireside Tuesdays (for hot cocktails), there’s never a dull moment in our test kitchen and on our menus!
What tips would you give anyone wanting to start their own business?
Talk out your ideas to people and find a mentor(s) who inspires you. Also – do your research!
Check out the rest of our That Girls here!