A China Hand originally referred to 19th-century merchants in the treaty ports of China, but came to be used for anyone with expert knowledge of the language, culture, and people of China.So as rising rents threaten the existence of the district's drinking institutions we trembled when hoardings were thrown around The Old China Hand recently as yet another local institution looked set to be consigned to history.
The steady creep of gentrification, is changing the face of our historic bar district and while The Old China Hand looks set to survive (it turns out it’s simply moving next door to escape a rent hike), the recent loss of the likes of Delaney’s and even The Junk last year have helped robbed Wan Chai of some of its distinctive character.
Inside Delaney’s in 2004
No all have closed and so next time you travel to Hong Kong or Wan Chai you can still raise a glass in one of the survivors that are continuing to keep the spirits of its fabled streets alive. Catch them while you can.
Carnegie’s Hong Kong
During the day and late afternoon, Carnegie’s is a quiet and comfortable bolt hole, offering an escape from the city’s hustle. But don’t be fooled: Carnegie’s takes on a life of its own once darkness descends. The bar is built for dancing on – never more so than on ladies’ night on Wednesdays – and the soundtrack plays tribute to the rock aesthetic that broke new ground for the local bar scene on the establishment’s opening in 1994.
The formula has since proved successful in Taiwan, Australia and more recently in Qingdao in Shandong province. “Wow, it’s been here longer than I have been alive,” laughed one waif when told the bar’s age during a recent sortie inside. But most nights it’s a venue that attracts a mix of all ages and inclinations, even those who give all that dancing business a miss and just like to watch.
Dusk Till Dawn
A destination that emerged around the time of the handover in 1997 and instantly found favour with the Wan Chai faithful thanks to the quality of its cover bands and the fact that it lives up to its name regarding the time when the shutters come down.
You can greet the dawn here, if you’re brave enough, and most nights it’s packed to the rafters with punters looking to dance their cares away. The outdoor terrace area is favoured by those looking to take a quiet breather while the pulse beats on inside and puts you in prime position to gaze upon Wan Chai’s weird and wonderful as they parade past.
Talk about commitment. While a stream of live venues have tried – and failed – across town, The Wanch has valiantly stuck with it and given generation after generation of Hong Kong rock wannabes a place to strut their stuff.
The doors opened in 1987, and the song has remained mostly the same ever since. There’s live music every night, including regular jam nights designed to tempt part-time rockers emboldened by the “happy hour” that runs from 5pm to 9pm.
The Wanch is justifiably proud of its place in history, and the walls are lined with photos of the acts that have graced the stage, as well as an impressive array of lobby posters and movie stills celebrating the city’s cinematic past.
The White Stag
It’s incredible to think that it took until 1999 for someone to realise that punters might want somewhere to sit and watch the ebb and flow of a Wan Chai night (or day) flow by, but there you have it. That’s when The Stag became the district’s first “open-faced” bar and it’s been a concept embraced by other establishments along Lockhart Road in the years since.
The White Stag’s enduring and endearing popularity comes down to its communal feel, whether that’s sports lovers drawn to the live broadcasts on its three big screens, groups looking for an English-style pub meal (until 2am at the weekend), or those who fancy occasionally spilling out on to the street, HK$50 happy hour pint in hand, as another Wan Chai night comes to life.
Hong Kong Cafe
Opened in 1993, the place once played host to American singer-songwriter Beck as he toured the world just before Loser (1994) made him a superstar. It was also favoured by the rave crowd in the late 1990s as they looked for a place to see in the dawn, but its bread and butter has always been those drawn to the refrains of (quite excellent) cover bands, dancing and a whole lot of chatting around the bar – until 7am.
B/F, 98-108 Jaffe Road; tel: 2865 2238
Thanks to Mathew Scott at SCMP
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