It used to be a confusing maze of narrow alleys with hawker stalls crammed with dusty crockery and plastic buckets. The tenements were ancient and crumbling into dust, the few commercial buildings squeezed onto narrow plots and occupied by mysterious men doing incomprehensible business. Then, in the mid-1970s, some of the premises began a strange transformation. From Hong Kong's only landmark gay bar in Wellington Street, a gradual architectural and culinary progression crept uphill. An old shopfront would close and there would be sounds of hammering and drilling behind shrouded plastic sheets. A few weeks later, it would open as a bar. First there was one, then a half-dozen. Suddenly, the once overlooked lane named Lan Kwai Fong and its surrounding alleys, streets and deadend passageways was the hottest drinking spot in Asia. For 20 years, 'the Fong' has been the heart of the drinking zone for young and not-so-young expatriates. It has been estimated that up to 80,000 people a week eat, drink and romance in this tiny area, with spending from credit cards alone up to $200 million a month. That's a lot of pina coladas. Once grubby and filled gutter-to-gutter with binge-boozing young people, it is going upmarket. Stylish outlets now attract the wealthy. A few very expensive private clubs have opened. But Friday night is still zoo night in Lan Kwai Fong. Zoo night? Yes, says a regular with a smile. The animals come out to play, she explains. As the banks and financial towers of Central empty, it is standing room only in the narrow lanes. It is impossible to make a head count, but as dusk falls and the noise rises from gin-propelled chatter and bands inside the bars, there are several thousand people, at least, jammed into the streets. Prices in Lan Kwai Fong's top restaurants can be stratospheric for a decent glass of wine, but 100 metres up the road in the cheerfully downmarket lane known as Rat Alley, crowds are happy drinking beer from the can. For anyone with a long memory, a walk down Lan Kwai Fong brings back one horrific memory always in the background to the good times. On New Year's Eve 1993, a good-natured crowd of young people were jammed like upright sardines in the steep street. The pavements were slick with beer and champagne. As festivities reached a peak, someone slipped. Quietly, unnoticed at first, others fell under the festive throng. In minutes, 21 people were dead. The tragedy cast a pall over the area. It seemed so unnecessary, so unexpected, so unfair. There was no violence. The victims had died surrounded by hundreds of happy people. More than a decade later, Lan Kwai Fong is thriving. The boast is that 'the Fong' has something for everyone - from exclusive fine dining, to relaxed snacks and beer drunk in the streets. Up the hill, there is the rival dining zone of SoHo (South of Hollywood Road), with its distinctive ethnic restaurants and wine markets. More sedate, it caters more for the serious diner than the dedicated drinker. But Lan Kwai Fong is changing, also. As it caters more to Chinese computer scientists and professionals, the 10-pint-a-night mob have moved back to their historic hunting grounds of Wan Chai. No one single person came up with the idea of Lan Kwai Fong. It just happened. But it couldn't have happened the way it did without Alan Zeman. The soft-spoken Canadian entrepreneur who used the Lan Kwai Fong momentum to propel himself into a multi-millionaire restaurant owner and real estate mogul owns more than a dozen outlets in the area and is putting up buildings to hold even more. There are other areas where bars and restaurants pack together. But there's nowhere with the determined-to-enjoy atmosphere of Lan Kwai Fong.