Not quite closing time: five Wan Chai bars that are defying the demise

As rising rents threaten the existence of the district's drinking institutions, we look at five that are still hanging in there

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2015, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2015, 6:32pm

The hoardings thrown around The Old China Hand recently sent shivers down the spines of the warriors of Wan Chai as yet another local institution looked set to be consigned to history.

Rising rents, alongside the slow and steady creep of gentrification, are 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.

So let’s raise a toast to the survivors and celebrate five Wan Chai institutions 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.

53-55 Lockhart Road; tel: 2866 6289

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.

76 Jaffe Road; tel: 2528 4689

The Wanch

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.

54 Jaffe Road; tel: 2861 1621

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.

54-62 Lockhart Road; tel: 2866 4244

Hong Kong Cafe

OK, so the name was changed in 2013 and the place was given an impressive sprucing up, but the spirit of the old Neptune II still lingers in the darker corners of this basement bar.

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

 

Two blasts from the past

Here are a couple of long-gone Wan Chai classics from yesteryear...