• Fri
  • Aug 1, 2014
  • Updated: 9:52am
NewsHong Kong
NIGHTLIFE

Legendary Wan Chai bar Joe Bananas calls time after 28 years due to high rent

Joe Bananas splits after almost three decades of late-night shenanigans

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 5:11am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 11:16am

As the last party-goers emerged from Joe Bananas this morning, the Wan Chai landmark closed its doors for good.

Rohan Muralee is distraught. "It's terribly sad. I don't know what to do with myself," the 29-year-old businessman said. "I would say I was there at least four nights a week."

Joe Bananas was one of Hong Kong's best-known watering holes and one of Wan Chai's oldest bars. But after one final all-night blowout, "JBs" is no more.

The Luard Road bar has a reputation for its serious drinkers and pick-up scene.

When it was opened in 1986 by expat Scots Laura McAllister and Andy Neilson, the bar was seen as a milder alternative to the rough and tumble Wan Chai overrun by sailors and working girls.

McAllister envisioned a place where couples could go and have a bit of a dance.

Neilson and McAllister sold up in 2000 and today, after 28 years, the owners have lost the lease and had no choice but to close. The owners of two nearby bars in Jaffe Road, Rio and Escape, are believed to be opening a new bar on the premises.

The bar staff are heartbroken.

"Life must go on, I suppose. I have to find another job," barman Nelson Urquico said. "I started in 1995. It was my first job in Hong Kong. I don't consider it working when I'm here."

Still, many of the staff admitted that Joe Bananas had become a shadow of its former self.

It was the decision to host wet T-shirt contests in the mid-90s that brought notoriety and mass appeal - until an official warning for indecent behaviour in 1997 put an end to the shenanigans.

Mukunda Limbu started as a doorman 18 years ago. He was its final general manager.

Recalling the wet T-shirt contests, he said: "The guys used to go crazy for it."

But he said they were just a small part of the debauchery of its glory days.

Limbu recalled the infamous all-male "Full Monty" shows. "We didn't hire from the outside. We, the management, were doing it. I did it!" he enthused. "We had about 300 girls watching us and they were paying for it."

Limbu said Hong Kong and the nightclub scene changed after the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003, when developers built high-end clubs in Lan Kwai Fong, and Joe Bananas just could not compete.

On Friday, it felt like the golden age of Joe Bananas again - with people crowding the bar and spilling onto the streets. There were old DJs who used to spin at JBs in the 90s and ex-bouncers.

Regulars from the early days drank pints and caught up with old friends, while younger fans drank Jagerbombs - a shot of Jagermeister in Red Bull - leaning on each other for support.

As in the good old days, a waitress walked along the top of the bar pouring vodka into the mouths of patrons below.

Limbu can't believe this is it. "I think we'll be back again," he said. "It's not like we're disappearing."

He has been frantically searching Wan Chai for a space to reopen, "Honestly, I don't want to give up," he said.

But regulars are not so sure and Muralee is worried: "It's an institution and even if it does reopen it will never really be the same."

What are your memories of Joe Bananas? Tell us in comments below or email us at onlinenews@scmp.com

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This article is now closed to comments

kingsleyhk
Some years ago, I was part of a business dinner in Central with two Americans, both visiting Hong Kong for the first time. Over dinner, I discovered that they were born-again Southern Baptists.
They were staying at a hotel in Hollywood Road, so, as the evening wound down, I volunteered to drop them off by taxi and continue on to my flat, then in Peel Street.
We got into a taxi, I sat in the front seat and gave the directions to the driver. Before he could drive off, a voice from the back said, “Kingsley, kin yew take us to where we kin see some good-lookin’ Oriental wimmin?”
Before I could respond, the taxi driver said, “Joe Bananas!”, and off we set.
I believe they enjoyed themselves.
sjmhk@netvigator.com
That's real sad, bye bye JB's. Unless you own the place your building up a business for someone else to take over. It's suicide for Hong Kong.
andreaswagner
This is sad :(
stoatmonster
I remember the days when JBs used to be a relatively upmarket establishment but in recent years, it has degenerated into yet another Wanchai meat market. I'm not sorry to see it go but better the devil you know than the one that will replace it.
chanaa
another one bites the dust. Sad HK !
lucifer
Drinks were not cheap there. How will anybody make enough to pay the rent?
chaz_hen
Won't the neighborhood be much more quaint with a Starbucks, Abercrombie and B itch, Cartier, King Fook Jewelry and a Louis Vuitton?
dynamco
not just Wanchai with ridiculous rents
Tai Wai in Shatin has seen many closures with asking prices of 150k for a small shop front 100m from the KCR
A former popular small roast pork outlet saw their rent go from 80k to 250k before they threw in their chips
yet the Govt does SFA in their cocoon
Market forces ?
bollox
stoatmonster
Actually, the owners of nearby Rio and Escape will be opening a new establishment on the old JB premises. This means that there will be another gaudy meat market on the strip, packed to the seams with hookers from Latin America, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Dai Muff
Landlords are strangling one business after another out of business. Particularly the new ones. And for our government "rent control" are dirty words.

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