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Lan Kwai Fong - Hong Kong's Nightlife

Though I've come back to Taipei more than one month ago, there are still some places in Hong Kong I'd like to write about. One of them is Lan Kwai Fong, which is one of the most glamorous, vibrant bar and night club areas of Hong Kong, and perhaps of the world.

Lan Kwai Fong is a T-shaped lane in the so-called Mid-Levels, in the centre of Hong Kong (see map below).







The first time I went to Lan Kwai Fong (or LKF, as locals call it) was in 2012. I and two friends of mine were trying to find a restaurant, but they could not find the one they were looking for, so we ended up walking around for quite a while. I soon forgot the main purpose why we had gone there and simply enjoyed exploring that part of the city.
What I saw there surprised me quite a lot. It was as if I had suddenly travelled back to Europe - Lan Kwai Fong resembled districts in London or Berlin rather than an Asian city. Not only did the many colonial buildings give the area a European flair, but there were so many Westerners that I almost did not feel like a foreigner any more. My Asian friends were clearly in the minority.

The last time I returned to LKF was at the beginning of May. My last Saturday in Hong Kong would have been pretty lame if my flatmate had not saved me. I went back home at around 11 pm, changed clothes and was about to take a shower, when my flatmate opened the doors - most flats in Hong Kong have a sliding metal gate and a normal Western-style door behind it. I heard the noise of the gate and went to say hello to her. When she saw me, she said:
"R** (name of a friend) asked me if you want to go to Lan Kwai Fong?"
"Sure! When?"
"Now!"
"Now? But it's almost midnight!"
"Yeah! If we hurry up we can still catch the MTR."
So I changed my clothes again and we went to Lan Kwai Fong.

The streets were full of people, and all bars and restaurants were crowded. It is hard to describe the glamour of that place. One should bear in mind that LKF is close to the business district, and that many bankers, business people etc. go there to party, have dinner or just have a drink. 

A European can hardly imagine how it feels to walk around in May wearing a simple shirt; Hong Kong was so hot that it felt like Berlin in the hottest summer days. We sat down in a nice bar and had a few beers. Below are some of the pictures I took that night.








While we were climbing up the hill we ended up in this square, where there seems to be nothing special, except that for some reason this huge crowd had gathered there





    






Old colonial buildings and skyscrapers towering on the horizon



Lan Kwai Fong: A Hong Kong Icon


Lan Kwai Fong (literally "Orchid and Osmanthus Square") is a symbol of Hong Kong, which reflects its vocation as a city of money, glamour and cosmopolitanism. "[F]ine cuisine and dining elegance, expensive suits and ties, arrogant gwailou and chuppies, alcohol and drunkards, wild and screaming youngsters, and casual sex and homosexuals" are some of the images that Hong Kongers may associate with Lan Kwai Fong (see Gordon Mathews, Dale Lü, Tai-Lok Lui: Consuming Hong Kong 2001, p. 237).

Lan Kwai Fong has much in common with Soho in London. They are both symbols of a way of life, of the rhythm and identity of these two world cities that were connected with each other through the British Empire and the globalisation that this Empire ushered in. Like Soho, Lan Kwai Fong is a universe of bohemian lifestyle, feverish consumption, of art and pleasure, fashion and leisure, where businesses construct a particular identity " 'shaped by the world of goods': food, drink, art, music, hairstyles, clothes and furniture" (ibid., p. 238).

Before the 1970s LKF wasn't a particularly fashionable area. There were street hawkers selling flowers, a garbage dump and many warehouses. But in 1978 a Hong Kong-born Eurasian, Gordon Huthart, chose Lan Kwai Fong to open a discotheque which would become legend: Disco Disco. Huthart wanted to create an alternative to the exclusiveness of The Scene, which was the first discotheque in Hong Kong (1968) and whose clients were the rich and famous of the city. The location of The Scene, close to The Peninsula Hotel, emphasised its role as a meeting point of the elites.

Disco Disco was the first real Western-style discotheque in Hong Kong, with deafening music and neon flashes that cut through the darkness. Those were the years of films such as Saturday Night Fever and Grease, which popularised the night life of young Western generations on the screen. Huthart recreated in Hong Kong the atmosphere of discos in San Francisco and other Western cities. Disco Disco soon became the place to be, frequented by Chinese and Westerners, by stars and common people alike. 

Huthart was openly homosexual - at a time when homosexuality in Hong Kong was illegal - and Disco Disco became a centre of gay lifestyle. The spirit of those years reflected the economic rise of Hong Kong, the new wealth that created a desire to consume and enjoy, the enthusiasm of the boom era and the mixing of Western and Chinese lifestyles.

Huthart is often called the "Father of Lan Kwai Fong"; however, he shares this title with another man, Allan Zeman, who changed LKF perhaps more than anyone else. In 1988 he bought the California Entertainment Building and in 1992 the California Tower. In these buildings he opened several bars and clubs, such as Indochine 1929, C Bar and di LUX, which set the standards for the years to come (note).

Another important figure in the development of LKF was the Austrian Christian Rhomberg, founder of Kee Club's impresario and of the cafe' 1997, which was opened in 1982. From the outset, 1997 was a huge success, mostly thanks to the hype its name caused: 1997 was the symbolic date of Hong Kong's retrocession to China. It was a number that evoked uncertainty and fear, but also showed the strength and optimism of a city that wanted to live and thrive in the 21st century, as it had done in the 20th.





After drinking a couple of beers, I and my friends went to a Turkish restaurant across the street, which apparently is opened 24-hours a day. This beef with salad, French fries and yoghurt dressing was so delicious that even now, while writing this post, I wish I could go there and get one. I don't know why food eaten in the middle of the night sometimes tastes so good; maybe it was also because I knew I would soon leave Hong Kong, and even the simplest things seemed to me special and unique. 



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