Review: Hong Kong Charlie’s Vodka Bar

By Rebecca Slack

Ernest Hemingway once said ‘I drink to make people interesting’. This, I believe, is something most people would find easy to relate to but I would offer an alternative version for students: ‘I drink to make coursework interesting’. This may seem an odd theory but when the pressure of a deadline looms often a nice cold drink is the only solution. So where better for a stressed student to go than a vodka bar with drinks deals?

Hong Kong Charlie’s is hidden in Southsea far away from grimy Guildhall Walk and glittering Gunwharf. I had heard a lot about their 2-4-1 Thursday night cocktails and £1.50 homemade, oddly flavoured 100 different vodkas. However, in my first year I found myself devoted to that all-too-familiar-snakebite-and-cheap-doubles nightclub scene.

My second year was different, though, bringing with it higher bills and no more “the first year doesn’t matter” excuses. I was broke, missing my weekly takeaway and more miserable than ever. So a night of cheap drinks without the 5am bedtime and attendant day-long hangover sounded almost perfect. I was finally going to sample Charlie’s infamous vodkas.

It was Portsmouth and November, so obviously it was pissing it down as my little troop of semi-alcoholics used the Aqua Cars speed dial to whisk us to the watering hole in less than five minutes. If it wasn’t for the words “Vodka Bar” printed above the door you would be forgiven for thinking Hong Kong Charlie’s was yet another generically-fronted Chinese restaurant with its dark terracotta tiles and black paint.

But once inside I realised that this was no eatery. The bar is long, the room spacious, the comfy seats sparse. Bottles line up behind the bar filled with funny-coloured liquids reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s factory: pastels, luminous hues, darkly dangerous shades and suspiciously clear tones. The picture is undeniably beautiful and utterly tempting, if a little unnerving.

The menu is seemingly infinite and I had nothing more but guesswork behind my choices. The staff, though, were happy to recommend their personal favourites with a smile. They were polite but thankfully not overly formal. The not-too-loud pop music and relaxed vibe allowed me to sink happily back in the soft sofa chatting and laughing with my mates.

The stars of the evening were of course the legendary vodkas. Of course, the correct protocol is to try a fairly broad selection… Though that may just be the student alcoholism talking. Even so, here’s my definitive ranking of the five I tasted.

The worst was Rosy Apple. Word of warning: do not try this out of morbid curiosity, seriously just don’t. Imagine drinking a mixture of unpleasant tonic water, lemonade and those hideous fruit-flavoured vitamin tablets that would be forced down your throat as a kid. A concoction created by the devil himself.

Slightly better but still not to be recommended was the tempting Refreshers-flavoured vodka. It was great… if you want to drink hand soap cut with dissolvable paracetamol, that is. It was meant to be a visit to my childhood and it was, in the sense that when you’re one-year-old and the pretty coloured soaps look yummy.

Still, two out of five ain’t bad so here’s the top three. Sweet, light and wonderfully sugary, the Starburst-flavoured shots were a delight. As everyone knows, the red ones are the best and the vodka tastes very much like the original candy.

One of my favourite games to play as a kid was seeing how many scorching-sour Toxic Waste drops I could fit in my mouth at once. Not classy but a lot of fun. At Hong Kong Charlie’s the watermelon vodka tastes exactly like those evil sweets but without the burn (big positive), so don’t let the luminescent, e-number green colour scare you off.

But out of all of the fantastic and not-so-fantastic shots we drank that night was a clear winner: fizzy cola bottle vodka! At first I was sceptical, but I was immediately won over by the weirdly-hued, penny sweet-tasting wonders of the tipple. It is perhaps a little too drinkable. Furthermore, it was the only one we ordered twice. OK, maybe more than twice during the night.

My fellow revellers and I agreed that Hong Kong Charlie’s was a fun but chilled venue where your shoes won’t stick to the floor and you’ll be able to find a clean toilet – major bonuses when you’re used to going to the usual student hangouts. So, my advice would be to drop the clubs for a night and head down to Charlie’s on a Thursday for a guaranteed laugh and an unmissable fizzy cola bottle vodka.

Oh, and you’ll have some change left in your pocket afterwards.

Photography by Lvova Anastasiya (Львова Анастасия, Lvova). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons