Nightlife: a vertical pub crawl
People point to places such as Lan Kwai Fong or Wyndham Street as examples of how Hong Kong is one of Asia's great nightlife destinations. But when most Hongkongers head out on a Friday night to have a few drinks, they look to the skies.
In popular entertainment towers pricey martinis, mixologists and pulsing dance beats are few and far between. The preference here is for a mixed pitcher of whisky and green tea on ice, some dice, karaoke and maybe a game of darts. If you think of these places as the haunts of triads and teenagers who don't know better, then you are missing out. There is no better way to embrace this aspect of our drinking culture than the most Hong Kong specific night out of them all: the vertical pub crawl.
The city already has a few versions of the pub crawl: there is the "club 7-Eleven crawl" in which drinkers on a budget walk from one end of the island to the other, stopping at each 7-Eleven to polish off a cold beer, and the Jell-O shot trail in Central, which sounds so disgusting that one hopes it is apocryphal. These two are probably best left to college students, backpackers and tourists.
The vertical pub crawl is Cantonese through and through.
Most Hongkongers sleep, eat, shop and live their lives high above street level. So, it is no surprise that free time is spent aloft. Each tower is basically a bar street in a box, with karaoke parlours, arcades, restaurants, bars and discos.
There are many suitable venues in Hong Kong, but a good place to start is the Ashley Centre on Ashley Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, a collection of 10 or 11 bars, discos and pubs, and the odd restaurant, spread across 15 floors.
These bars have plenty in common. Each venue has dart boards and flat screens playing karaoke hits, and each tends to appeal to the same type of crowd: mostly young locals sharing pitchers of mixed drinks and buckets of beers playing liar's dice or the addictive Cantonese gesture-based drinking game sup mm yi sup. Many bars are so similar it gets disorienting, especially near the end of the night. This is not helped by the fact that many bars share the same wait staff.
We start at the top.
Loft 15 is on the 15th floor and is a bit quieter, more upmarket and cosier than the other bars; it appeals to a more mature crowd. Bling Club on the 12th floor has an unlimited drinks deal on Fridays and Saturdays It costs HK$250 for men and HK$100 for women before 9pm and HK$300 for men and HK$150 for ladies after 9pm. The disco-inspired decor at Hyenas Pub on the 11th floor makes it one of the wildest in town. Here, a friend got into a Cantopop singing competition with a businessman and ended up surrounded by a crowd who lifted him up and put him on a table from where he continued to serenade the crowd.
At another venue we were invited into a private karaoke room by a woman and her co-workers. We played hand games with her boss and won, and he became upset and banished us from the room.
If you're not Chinese expect to be met with blank stares and lots of whispering. Also, many patrons smoke inside, which, coupled with the noise from dice cups and karaoke, can be overwhelming. One of the biggest challenges is meeting new people. It can be intimidating to approach a table of boisterous revellers in the midst of a heated game of dice. Most venues lack dance floors or any neutral mingling space - these are not pick-up joints.
But with a few memorised George Lam Chi-cheung lyrics up your sleeve, a taste for green tea and Johnny Walker Black label, and a willingness to lose repeatedly at dice, you'll have more friends than you can handle in no time. And when the night is over, think of all the money you saved on taxi fares.