By Hans Ebert
Warning: This isn’t the Hong Kong that was around two years ago. Or even a year ago. A shopper’s paradise? Hardly. Those nouveau riche Mainland Chinese came in droves a few years ago, shops closed exclusively for them to overpay for luxury items before the spending was finally reined in.
Walk through the Landmark and Pacific Place and very often the staff outnumber customers. Those big name brands just lie there. Unless there’s some seasonal sale. Or an Everything Must Go Sale.
It’s like restaurants, bars and clubs. One day, they’re there. The next they’re gone. It’s all about over supply and demand. And more often than not, no demand. Other than the occasional drunk tourist being thrown out of Escape in Jaffe Road, except for Dust Till Dawn, Wanchai is dead.
Guess there’s always Amazonia for those who enjoy that type of thing, but having a late night dinner at the iconic Cinta-J with friends is far more fun. Chilled. Spicy. Order the Beef Rendang and Chicken Satay. Take in the ‘live’ karaoke.
One can cruise through all of Wanchai- the old Wanchai with the sad sack expat regulars at Joe Bananas desperate for company with Filipina working ladies sitting on their laps and calling them “baby”- and what’s trying to be positioned as the “new Wanchai” down Sun Street. A drink down there at Ophelia, below, is harmless. But there’s a void. Like a raison d’être. There’s always a sting to the tail. No one is whom they pretend to be.
Otherwise, it’s just one long walk on the tacky side of life littered with lost souls and clubs serving fake brands of vodkas and whiskies.
If lucky, you might be able to find a decent late night kebab. Somewhere. What’s in it? Hmmmm.
Players is still around. But the few extremely tired “players” who straggle in at 4am looking to play and when the joint finds a pulse, are not exactly there for intellectual conversation. But at 4am, what do you expect? Strangely enough, Players serves a very good Chicken Burger. Go figure. Plus the Nepalese security boys can be very helpful. They’re very protective of their longtime customers.
Away from a Lou Reed song, make time to look on the bright side of life and check out the Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun areas. Used to live there when trying to go bohemian with an artistic Dane. There are new bars, a large French community, a more artistic vibe- younger, cooler and where a night at a restaurant like Potato Head with its Music Room should be on your bucket list.
It’s really an area to discover starting in the afternoon. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised taking it all in. It could restore your faith in humanity. It’s finding a positive side to a Hong Kong that’s often more fake than Facebook and Instagram combined and “LOOK AT ME” updates.
Carnegies in Wanchai on a Friday night can be fun, but jeez, there are those nights there when one really misses home comforts and Netflix.
As for the once trendy Lan Kwai Fong area, well, when the most popular venue is the neighbourhood 7-11 where underage kids do all kinds of trading, this says much of what’s not going on. Well known bars and restaurants have closed. If prepared to settle for mindless drunk company, it’s here- a depressing mix of international losers going nowhere. At least there are no bikies. Just taxis that hold you to ransom. Uber is hit or miss.
Unless truly desperate- or fifty going on seventy- give the 5 star hotel lounges a wide berth. Possibly bearable with enough alcoholic intake and where everything and everyone suddenly looks amazing, there’s really nothing much of anything in any of them except for five star priced drinks, the odd working girl from Thailand and old pop songs made to sound even older by a chaunteuse backed by a trio of old guys going through their pacemakers.
Having said all this, there is a certain kitsch appeal. If dining at the hotel and the mood shakes the groove thing inside, a late night drink might be worth a nightcap. But bring company.
If there’s a “best” to these venues, it would be the hotel lounges at the Inter-Continental and the Champagne Bar at the Grand Hyatt.
Dinner at the latter’s Chinese restaurant 1 Harbour Road and a quick drink at the five star lounge downstairs could be fun. You never know who might drop in.
During HKIR week, there’s much of Melbourne racing’s usual suspects crammed in there. And with everyone having “mail” about the Hong Kong races and the usual obsession with who’s zooming who. The usual traps for fools. Seriously now, who cares?
What’s always been interesting is that those with all the news about horses, trainers and especially the local fat cat horse owners are the bartenders working at these hotel lounges. They take it all in. They’re hardly Manuel.
After a private function, those crazy rich Chinese horse owners and socialite wives show up with their horse trainers in tow with everyone well lubricated. And so the information spills over- about upcoming winning chances, those with zero chances, the good, the bad and the fugly and how to get the most out of those taken in and impressed by nouveau riche surroundings. Who are these? Almost always those wide eyed foreign jockeys and their wives and girlfriends who honestly believe they’re part of the Inner Circle. Please.
After all these years, using this naivety has become a fine art for the seasoned muppet masters. They could make Lloyd Williams look like Simple Simon. None of this information and plans escape the really good local bartender. And if they know you, they tell you what they’ve heard.
These are the best tipsters in town. Real Deep Throat type tipsters. Add managers of venues and especially hotel car attendants to this list. It really should be a reality show. And a reality check on how loose lips have sunk many Titanics.
To be continued…
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