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GEOslant: What to See, Where to Be Seen Around Hong Kong, by Robin Peckham


For ART HK 12, Robin Peckham gives us the local run-down, neighborhood by neighborhood: where the art-loving visitor should eat, drink, and shop during off-time from the fair.

Wanchai, the neighborhood immediately surrounding the convention center in which the art fair is housed, is not normally a major gathering point for the art crowd. For a week in May, however, we learn to love it and make the trek several times daily from the fair through the parallel streets marked by aging stripped clubs (that’s a state of being, not becoming) and former naval watering holes to the few decent spots on the south side of the area abutting the mountain.

For lunch or dinner, the best choices are all delivered by restaurateur and arts patron Alan Lo, whose outlets the Classified Mozzarella Bar, The Pawn, and The Principal offer a selection of reasonable choices, arrayed here in ascending order according to the number of days ahead of time one might consider making a reservation. On the after-dinner walk of shame from one to the next, don’t miss the popular design stores and boutiques around the corner, particularly Kapok and Chen Mi Ji. There’s also the new bar Tai Lung Fung back in a much older neighborhood closer to the center of Causeway Bay; done up to look like a diner from the 1960s, it’s a bit rough around the edges and overly thematic, but the people-watching experience on the front porch is a pleasant one.

Of course, Wanchai is ground zero for Hong Kong karaoke, from the Cantonese chain Neway popular with local teenagers just across the street from the Foo Tak Building (365-367 Hennessy Rd.), the largest agglomeration of artist studios downtown, to MusicBox, a somewhat more refined experience. And if the evening doesn’t end until the sun comes up, stop in at Fu Sing around the corner for the absolute best char siu in town, as well as some of the most jaw-dropping dim sum.

(iPhone Hong Kong, Sheung Wan. Photo by opalpeterliu. Creative Commons License.)

It used to be that all of the galleries anywhere west of the escalator insisted on presenting their addresses as strictly “Central, Hong Kong.” Today, however, it seems that everything in Central with any claim to the cool factor is trying to brand itself as Sheung Wan. The neighborhood has been overrun of late with a plethora of fashion shops, design collectives, coffee classrooms, cocktail bars, and multiples galleries; most should be resolutely ignored and left to the creatives and their consumers, but a number of key spots are significant for the art audience.

Coming out of Central station and looking for a quick afternoon snack, for instance, one finds Wing Lok Yuen, the best purveyor of the classic Hong Kong hot dog. Heading westward and up the hill, one would be remiss not to make an appointment at Moustache for what is almost certainly the most gallery-friendly suiting in the city, classy but with a touch of wink and flourish--and of course, pick up a bathing suit straight off the rack. It will come in handy.

Then there is a significant cluster of dignified if somewhat faded old restaurants in which the majority of opening dinners are held: Lin Heung, the white tablecloth standard; Ngau Kee, a slightly quieter option; Kau Kee, the best beef brisket on the island; and Sing Heung Yuen, famous for its liver-and-macaroni-in-tomato-soup. Continuing past the Asia Art Archive and Para/Site, the twin pillars of scholarly rigor in the otherwise freewheeling Hong Kong art scene, one would arrive at Cafe Loisl, the preferred Viennese cafe of choice for many a quiet afternoon meeting in the neighborhood.

(Hong Kong, Wong Chuk Hang. Photo by ericwonghk83. Creative Commons License.)

Escaping the haze with a move into the theoretically sunny suburbs--and thus following the weekend path of many, whereby brunch with the dog in Sheung Wan often results in a quick cab ride over the mountains of Pokfulam to a lazy afternoon at the beach--one might end up on the South Side. Several neighborhoods here are quickly becoming major art focal points, most notably Wong Chuk Hang, where serious patrons like William Lim and Mimi Brown have chosen to locate their collections and project spaces. This group of industrial buildings (which in Hong Kong more often than not take the form of skyscrapers up to twenty-five stories tall) has also been given a boost by the relocation of many of the offices of Lane Crawford, the city’s largest department store, into a newly refurbished tower in the area, bringing along with it a second branch of the infamous west side deli Percy’s. For the moment, however, there isn’t much else to eat or drink beyond the revelatory Green Curry House (Nam Long Shan Rd. Cooked Food Market) in the local wet market and a stunning array of private clubs--the Hong Kong Country Club, the Hong Kong Golf Club, and the Aberdeen Marina Club--closed to the casual visitor.

The main draw of this side of the island is, of course, the beaches at South Bay and Middle Bay, where it seems--according to historical statistics--most Sunday mornings on the tail end of the art fair end up. Be sure to take the long way back to downtown, however, and pass through Chai Wan on the far east end of the island, where savvy artists, curators, and architects have been buying up industrial units and transforming them into the lofts and studios no one in Hong Kong can afford. While there, enjoy a final coffee at art adviser Jehan Chu’s lunch spot Chaiwanese, and watch the fog roll right back in, as if on cue.


--Robin Peckham

(Image top right: Nightlife in Hong Kong, Wan Chai. Photo by cav... Creative Commons License.)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 5/17/12

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