August 19, 2004
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2004
“The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind,” Humphrey Bogart once said. But the problem with Lan Kwai Fong is that everyone is a few drinks ahead. Which is not say that chivalry and manners are lacking in Hong Kong Island’s favorite party precinct.
LFK, as regular “Fongians” call it, is a slick stretch of open-air bar cafés, discos and bistros that reaches its high-tide mark around 9pm nightly, with king tides on weekends. It has been called the “white man’s ghetto,” an over-priced, over-rated haunt of the overweight expat that creates more barriers between the white and local Chinese communities than it strives to eliminate.
But few would deny that this once shabby down-at-heel neighborhood, a bottle’s toss from Central, Hong Kong’s financial hub, has been transformed for the better. Since British businessman Allan Zeman opened the California Entertainment building in 1979, on the premise that there wasn’t a decent watering hole in all of Hong Kong, LKF has become a place to be seen for serious social climbers and out-of-towners flying in for a weekend of partying.
La Dolce Vita, at 9-11 Lan Kwai Fong, is one establishment that has been playing longtime host to the weekend models and corporate groovesters who previously had nowhere to go. Nightlife guide HK Magazine gave the place a high “pose factor” rating with excellent “scooping” opportunities from its open-ended counter bar. Old Asia hands will be disappointed, however; boozing, schmoozing and posing are rituals acted out nightly among its youthful yuppie set, and while happy hours extend into the morning, the price of one drink—around HK$40 (¥644)—will get you to Kowloon and back 16 times on a Star Ferry.
Across the street, Wing Wah Lane is LKF’s poor cousin. Its main purveyor of fun in a bottle is Club 64, at 12-14 Wing Wah Lane, a homey, vaguely bohemian pub whose name refers to June 4, the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the significance of which is lost on its patrons by 9pm when happy hour kicks in and a pint of draft Kilkenny will set you back $43 and Tsingtao, $31. Further up at 10 Wing Wah Lane, Le Jardin Club, offers a quiet ambience in its candle-lit terrace bar.
Bar prices in the Fong area can seem cheeky, but dining offers better value. The menu at Taste Good Thai Food, at 16 Wing Wah Lane, features deep-fried marinated squid in herbs, fat taro dumplings with pork, and taste-bud-tingling spicy beef salad, along with a good old eye-catcher—charcoal-grilled snake’s head—for $98. Caesar salads and seafood grills are the daily $60 staple at Skewers by HMP, also on Wing Wah.
Reasonable deals are not lacking at Sherman’s bar-restaurant, at 34-36 D’Aguilar street, which serves tapas and pastas with its bottles of New Zealand merlot. It’s a popular meeting place for Australians who like to “keep their fingers on the pulse of the Fong,” says barman Sunny Ho. Other D’Aguilar Street bars D26, Insomnia, the Green Parrot, and the Yelts Inn also offer afternoon drinking in amiable surrounds.
True grit awaits at the Lai Yuen Restaurant, opposite Wellington Street. This is a solid working-class joint popular with Chinese truckies who hunch over cigarette suppers and hot milk tea. The waiters are tough but kind; there’s an English menu but no one speaks English, and the urinal is a concrete trough out back. After 9pm, when the staff are winding down over card games, is a good time to stop by. A coffee costs $12, hot Coca-Cola with lemon $12, and if you’re game, a big mug of beef tea will set you back $13.
Finally, if detours are to be taken, Petticoat Lane, 2-4 Tun Wo Lane, is worth a side-step away from the Fong for its lush gothic overtones and candelabra overkill, though its “blow job” cocktails, kamikazes and Alabama Slammahs are stiff at $75 each, and the pretension makes breathing difficult.
Another worthwhile late-night diversion from the LKF’s heady spirit world is Sun Chau Book & Antique Co., around the corner at 32 Stanley Street. Curios from the Cold War era are its specialty, as are its prices. But if it’s an original Chinese or Russian propaganda poster, from circa 1965, $480 ($180 for copies) will buy it. Likewise, Mao Zedong watches, military badges and Bruce Lee figurines go for more than a song.
Several airlines link Tokyo and Hong Kong, including Dragon Air (dragonair.com), Northwest (nwa.co.jp), Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific.com/jp), United Airlines (unitedarlines.co.jp), JAL (jal.co.jp) and ANA (ana.co.jp). From Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport, located 34km west of Central, on Lantau Island, take the high-speed Airport Express rail service to Central (HK$100) and Kowloon (HK$90). Linking Kowloon and Hong Kong Island (and LFK) are the iconic Star Ferries, which run every few minutes. It takes only eight minutes and fares cost HK$2.20 for upper deck, HK$1.70 for lower deck seats. Alternatively, jump aboard the MTR, the underground train network at any stop along Nathan Road, Kowloon’s main hotel and shopping precinct. Single-journey tickets cost HK$4–11. A comprehensive guide to eating and drinking in Hong Kong’s favorite party zone can be found at lankwaifong.com