Tag Archives: hong kong clubs

Hong Kong’s best clubs are … where exactly?

31 Jul

hidden agendaIt’s funny how a change of scene can so utterly alter one’s behaviour. About 18 months ago I was to be found most Friday and Saturday nights in the arse end of Dalston, throwing shapes, gurning at strangers and losing my phone. My nights out in Hong Kong are somewhat different, but this new low-key existence is not the result of some new found maturity. Oh no. It could more appropriately be called “adjusting to circumstances”.

Firstly there is no shape throwing. God forbid you actually enjoy yourself at one of the many overpriced late bars in Hong Kong optimistically branded “clubs”, get up from your pre-booked banquette where your friends are sipping Krug and dance. No, no. What you need to do is sit back down, put on that permanent frown and carry on posing.

Secondly, there really is no arse-end of anywhere here. Every district is easily reachable by quick, cheap MTR or taxi, and most of it is gentrified to fuck. Well, that’s not necessarily Hong Kong’s fault given the chronic lack of space and the greed of a handful of property moguls. But when there is a cool local, bar, club or venue, the authorities – probably at the behest of said moguls or the pro-Beijing DAB party, aka the fun police – do their very best to shut it down and harass the owners. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Club 71 in Soho and Tai Lung Fung in Wan Chai have both had to stop smokers going outside after a certain hour – police will circle outside in the late evening hoping to catch an infraction. I almost feel like robbing a bank just so they have something better to do.

One glorious exception to this general lack of grungey, local dives is Hidden Agenda, a 2nd floor factory space near the old airport in an industrial estate in Kwun Tong. It reminds me of my teenaged years dancing to Radiohead in a darkened club beside the River Tyne and is, quite frankly, what Hong Kong needs more of. Except it can’t get a liquor license (which is not too bad, although the BYO beers tend to get a bit warm after an hour), and it can’t open much past 10.

It’s an industrial estate, for fuck’s sake, how many sleeping families are going to be disturbed by a well-insulated live music venue that wants to stay open at the weekends until 1 or 2? I’d rather see a world class DJ perform there than in the horror of Drop, Volar or Hyde. In fact, I’d rather sit outside 7-11 with my iPod on then go back into Volar. That entire Kwun Tong estate could be transformed into a kind of artsy/cultural area with clubs, art galleries, little bars and cafes. Last I heard they were trying to get datacentre companies to move in. It’s a moot point anyway – the whole lot will probably be demolished in a few years to make way for another fucking shopping mall.

In the meantime my nights these days are more likely to be filled with drunken meals, bar crawls and the odd secret beach party than reaching for the lasers. Which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is no way to live out one’s 30s.

London: we’ve been doing this for centuries

19 Dec

covent garden christmasI’ve just been back to London this week for a pre-Christmas wedding, which involved the ceremonial catch-ups with mates and ex-colleagues and a particularly lovely encounter with a bacon and cheese toastie, which will stay with me for a very long time.

Festive London really is a lovely affair. Christmas as we know it in the UK is pretty much a Victorian invention so it’s probably fitting that the capital – with its imposing monuments, churches, statues and stations from this period – does it better than anywhere else. Even Covent Garden comes into its own at Christmas – I dunno, there’s just something very festive about cobbled stones, failed actors and terrible mime artists.

It’s always bitter sweet, going home after any length of time abroad and it can be difficult to get over the feeling of having being left behind. London had its best mockney attitude on for Christmas, though, and did its best to persuade me to stay. Eccentric little bars, restaurants, cafes and clubs are dotted all over the place from Soho to Exmouth Market, Borough to Brixton. Menus glued to the inside of Cannon and Ball albums, blackboards scrawled with the lyrics of classic indie songs, bar staff with more piercings, tattoos, casual unaffected humour and just plain weirdness than you can shake a stick at: London is just better at this shit than anywhere else.

In Hong Kong, of course, the biggest tragedy of the absurdly high rents is that any budding entrepreneur looking to succeed in the hospitality space needs a combination of luck, friends in high places, plenty of money and a business plan aimed at servicing wealthy ex-pats, tourists and super-rich locals with lots of money but no taste. This is the Armani and Cristal set, who’d rather preen with a cocktail halfway up a skyscraper than slum it in an artsy dive bar basement. The fact that there are few alternatives to get wonky in Honky is a tragedy.

London’s not all good though. I was staying in Elephant and Castle, an area which has redefined the meaning of underachievement. Zone 1, 10 mins by Tube to the City, West End, etc etc and yet a wasteland of brutalist 1950s housing estates, 99p Shops, Halal butchers and payday loan shops. This is urban planning by the bastard child of Corbussier and Waynetta Slob and it has been waiting for renewal for about 20 years while successive local councillors bicker over the small print.

If this was Hong Kong, Elephant would have been restored to its rightful place as the Piccadilly Circus of the south by now. No political infighting, no squabbles over funding – just getting shit done. Then again, it would have probably ended up with 35 x 7-11s, 5 x private members’ bars, 3 x shopping malls filled with luxury fashion and jewelry brands, far too many escalators and housing that no-body who currently lives there can afford. I love Hong Kong – “sometimes misguided but always enthusiastic” – but it needs to loosen up a bit or its poor citizens will be drinking in vapid grief-holes for the rest of their days.