Category Archives: Hong Kong Night Life

Orange Peel

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Orange Peel is a new music bar located at 38-44 D’Aguilar Street (2nd floor) in Lan Kwai Fong. A good friend is one of the co-owners, so I was invited to their soft opening last night. A lot of the people from Peel Fresco in Soho are involved with this bar, so if you’ve been to PF, you have some idea of what to expect from OP. They’re going for a more adult crowd with a line-up of mostly jazz and they’ve got a sommelier on staff so expect a good choice of wines to go with the music. There’s a kitchen there but I don’t know what kind of food is planned.

Since I was in “party mode” last night, I wasn’t going to drag a lot of heavy equipment with me, just my Sony RX100 Mark III. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time behind the camera, but I did manage to grab a couple of quick shots here and there.

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They’ve clearly spent a lot on having proper acoustics for the music, and as you can see the place is large enough to fit a grand piano – not something you’ll often see in Lan Kwai Fong bars.

I don’t know when the official opening will be, but it looks as if they’ve got live music planned for every night this week. If you’re in the area, check them out. I see they’ve got some jazz, some blues and a bit of r ‘n b on the schedule and there’s been some discussion about nights featuring bands from HK’s indie rock scene.

I think it has probably been a year or longer since I last went to Lan Kwai Fong at night, especially a Saturday night. The first thing I noticed is how many old spots have been replaced with new ones. Maybe this is old news to you but I was really surprised to see some old favorites apparently long gone.

The second thing, no surprise, is that on a Saturday night at 11 PM, the streets are packed, and the quantity of gorgeous women to be seen remains mind-boggling. On the other hand, aside from myself, I’m not sure that I saw anyone else in the street who was over 30! Either the crowd is getting younger, or I’m getting older.

At one point I grabbed a quick kebab from a new (to me, anyway) spot called TavaQuick.

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I guess that guy is quite used to drunk people whipping out a camera while waiting for kebabs to be ready.

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Knock-Off Bananas

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Actually, one does hear tales about knock-off fruit in the mainland – oranges not distributed by Sunkist with a Sunkist sticker on them, as one example. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.

This from the SCMP a few days ago:

After the last pints were pulled at one of Wan Chai’s oldest bars in February, Joe Bananas is making a comeback.

It’s now clad in bamboo scaffolding, and the new owners of the “original” Joe Bananas – famed for three-decades of wet T-shirt contests, A-list celebrities and top music bands – are advertising for staff to join the new venture.

But regular beer drinkers will be forgiven for wanting the same experience.

The new owner, who also owns the Rio and Escape bars on Jaffe Road, reached a deal to move into the premises on Luard Road.

Joe Bananas, opened in 1986 by expat Scots Laura McAllister and Andy Neilson, shut its doors in February to the disappointment of its loyal fans and new ones just discovering its respite from the rough and tumble Wan Chai overrun by sailors and working girls.

Neilson and McAllister sold up in 2000 and three months ago lost the lease.

But the previous owners told the South China Morning Post this week they had retained the bar name and trademark in a bid to reopen nearby.

It is not clear whether an agreement to buy the full naming rights to the bar has been reached.

So typical lazy reporting from the SCMP. I’m going to ignore the moronic bit about “rough and tumble Wan Chai overrun by sailors and working girls.” Because first of all, the sailor thing only happens a few times a year. Working girls, “overrun” is a matter of opinion, but Joe Bananas always had its share of those after 10 PM.

According to my (usually accurate) sources, the owners of Joe Bananas did not lose the lease. How do you lose a lease? You misfile the papers somewhere? The dog ate it? No. The lease came up for renewal and someone else was legally allowed to come along and outbid the then-current occupants for the lease.  And it’s the same group of people who several years ago caused the demise of Laguna, replaced by Insiders. Hong Kong is a “free market economy” which in this case translates to zero laws to protect a business that has been in place for 28 years.

For awhile, the new lease holders had giant signs up mentioning Rio, their new-ish disco that’s in a basement next to the Spicy Fingers bar. Now they’ve changed it to “Re-Opening Soon! The Original Joe Bananas!” Because in Hong Kong you can basically lie in advertisements.

And how can it not be clear if an agreement has or has not been reached to sell or license the bar name? In particular when the preceding paragraph clearly states that the previous owners retained the name and hope to re-open in another location?

And why is it that the SCMP can’t get even such a simple story straight?

I have never been a big fan of Joe Bananas, though I have plenty of friends who were and I’ve had my share of good times in that bar. And I recognize the fact that it’s something of an iconic spot in Wan Chai. I believe it was the first “normal” bar to open in that area.

I just think it’s a pretty crappy situation if indeed someone has come along, outbid an existing business for their lease, and then decides to keep the name and logo of the previous business.  What’s the point of investing money and blood, sweat, tears and years of your life building up a business, only to have it taken away from you in such a manner?

Maybe it’s not the case. Maybe my friends got it wrong. And maybe the new bar will be great. It’s a big space in a great location. I just think that if this story is true, this really sucks.

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Random Thoughts on My 60th Birthday

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I always thought that by the year 2014 I’d be rich, famous or dead, or some combination of those. Instead I am poor, unknown and still alive. Then again, I’ve just passed my one year anniversary at a job that actually does not suck, just passed the five month mark on my marriage and have a few good friends on whom I can absolutely rely. So I suppose it’s not a total loss.

Thursday May 1st and Tuesday May 6th are holidays in Hong Kong, so I decided to take the 2nd and 5th as vacation days, giving me a 6 day weekend. (Ha! So far I’ve spent a decent amount of time working on the 1st and 2nd, albeit from home.) However, it would not be possible to get on a plane and go somewhere because my wife couldn’t take off from her job.

I don’t drink alcohol very often any more.  Go back a decade and I was getting drunk 6 nights a week; these days it’s a big deal if I drink more than 2 or 3 times a month.  I often note that some of my Facebook friends’ timelines seem to be a celebration of inebriation and I find that less than inspiring. However, just for the hell of it, I declared that I would celebrate my birthday via “Six Days of Drunkeness,” one day for each decade that I have walked the earth.

Wednesday night was bar-hopping around Wanchai. I ended up at The Wanch where Tommy Chung was playing. If you don’t know Tommy, he’s a rousing blues guitarist and I always enjoy his playing. I’d even go so far as to say that I enjoyed what he was doing more than I enjoyed Robben Ford’s set the previous night.

But after the second song, I got a message from my wife telling me she’d finished working and needed my help to carry stuff home. I zipped over to TST to find that some friends were drinking at her restaurant, I of course joined in, and that stretched out into another couple of hours before we hopped a taxi home.  This was a night of a lot of Jack Daniels and Coca Cola.

Thursday we had a BBQ party at home – hence all of the stuff that we needed to carry the night before. My wife was able to buy a lot of the ingredients for our party wholesale through the restaurant and the chefs there gave her some preparation tips. So we served our guests parma ham with melon, pasta salad, potato salad, pancit, lumpia and fried chicken wings, followed by BBQ steaks, pork ribs and chicken. Not a bad spread although in what I’m told is true Filipino tradition, we probably had enough food for a small village. One friend baked a cheesecake for me.  As soon as the cooking was over, I bypassed all the bottles of wine and cans of beer and grabbed a bottle of Patron Anejo tequila, double shots with ice, and I found that a most pleasant beverage for passing the rest of the evening.

Friday was more bar hopping in Wanchai. (Seriously these days you practically have to drag me kicking and screaming to get me to go to Lan Kwai Fong or Soho.) I had this idea that I wanted the sizzling chili prawns from American Restaurant (a really old, old school Beijing style place)(I know, the place was probably never great to begin with and it ain’t what it used to be but I have a real fondness for this spot).  But then a pick-up truck pulled up in front of Spicy Fingers. They had a charcoal BBQ on the back and started grilling up – and giving away! – cheeseburgers, and really good ones at that. They were all gone in well under 30 minutes, long before any police might pull up and chase them away. It was a promotion for a new burger joint that will be opening in Wanchai in around 2 weeks and these were tasty burgers indeed. It was a welcome novelty in a place that so foolishly bans food trucks. So no chili prawns necessary. I’d thought this would be a whisky night but somehow I got started on Jack Cokes again and so Mr. Daniels remained with me for the balance of the night.

We spent a long period of time at the Wanch, about ten of us at one of the two outside tables they’ve got. Later, we were headed to Thai Hut for a late supper but we got tagged by one of the staff at Rio, a guy we’ve known for awhile, and he insisted that the food there was good and we should try it. We descended into the basement of this place and, okay, the food was decent enough. But they were playing the kind of disco music I stopped listening to ten years ago and at ear-shattering volumes. There were hardly any people in there and I suspect this is the kind of place that doesn’t get busy till after 2 AM – assuming that they do get busy at some point.

Tonight, day 4 of 6 and my actual birthday, I met my wife after she finished working and we went to a nearby favorite, Brick Lane Gallery, where I’d booked an outside table. Brick Lane (two branches in TST, one near Admiralty) is sort of a British gastro pub and their Gallery branch is on a quiet dead end street that has several restaurants and late night clubs. We had a long leisurely late dinner with a nice bottle of Italian red wine. (As I get older, I find that beer and wine hit me very fast and can leave me with a headache, whereas I can go all night with no problem on distilled spirits. Tonight was no exception. I wasn’t wasted from half a bottle of wine but I was really glad I’d left the car at home.) We then scooted over a couple of blocks east to Sticky Fingers for another few drinks while listening to their not-horrible cover band.

So two more days to go. I’m going to try to hit Picex, a photography exhibition at KITEC on Sunday afternoon and suspect the night will be spent sitting out on my deck with a bottle of bourbon I’ve been saving for awhile. Monday will be a few more bars, then Tuesday to recover from all the madness and Wednesday back to work.

I’m not certain that it’s entirely sunk in that I’m 60 yet. That’s one of life’s great jokes, isn’t it? Inside I feel the same way I felt when I was 20. My mother will be 93 in a few weeks and I know she feels the same way.

Maybe this is one reason that I consider Henri-Pierre Roché a personal hero. He wrote two books in his life, the first was Jules and Jim and it was published in 1953 when he was 74 years old. The book was not a success until Francois Truffaut found a copy in a second hand book shop and made it into one of the greatest films of all time in 1962 – since then the book has never been out of print. Maybe if I make it to 70 I’ll finally finish my semi-autobiographical book but with my luck if it then gets turned into a film, said film would be directed by the guy who does Adam Sandler’s movies.

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Friday Night Rocks

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There’s a new place in town and it’s called the New Central Harbourfront, a huge outdoor area right along the harbor next to the Central Ferry piers.  This week, with the Hong Kong Rugby 7′s in town, they’re holding daily events here as part of what they’re calling HK Fanzone. The opening night featured local star Khalil Fong while Saturday night brought De La Soul back to Hong Kong.

Friday night brought Friday Night Rocks, the first in a series of events celebrating the 10th anniversary of Underground. So for the crazy low price of just HK$150 for advance tickets, you got a festival celebrating the amazing diversity of Hong Kong’s independent music scene (plus a guest band from Korea). The bands that played were:

It was a great night, to put it mildly. Stand-outs for me were Shotgun Politics, Galaxy Express and Dr. Eggs.

Here are a few quick photos. There’s a lot more over at the Friday Night Rocks Gallery Page at Spike’s Photos.

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Friday Night Rocks!

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Yes, every Friday night rocks but Friday March 28th is going to rock even harder.

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After staging at least 150 shows in Hong Kong clubs over the past ten years, my good friends at Underground are doing their first music festival – and it’s long overdue in my opinion!

The Hong Kong Rugby 7′s are coming up in two weeks and some organizers have put together a multi-day event called HK Fan Zone. Khalil Fong is scheduled for the opening night, Tuesday March 25th, and De La Soul will be headlining on Saturday March 29th. All of this will be taking place at the “New Central Harbourfront.” This is really nice – a second waterfront venue for events and concerts. Is Hong Kong finally dipping some toes into 21st century water?

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Friday March 28th belongs to Underground and they’ll be bringing along SEVEN bands for the event. This includes local indie favorites like Noughts and Exes, Dr. Eggs and Bamboo Star, as well as Galaxy Express, a hard rocking trio from Korea.

There are a limited number of advance tickets for sale at only $150 – admission will cost $200 at the door. I think that’s an incredibly reasonable price for an event like this.  You can buy advance tickets online here.

Read more about the event and the participating bands here.

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Finance Live! – Charity Benefit

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(Please click on the above image to see it full size.)

I’m sure that a lot of people in town know Steve Bernstein. By day he works in the financial field and somehow most nights he finds the energy to be playing mandolin in a variety of bands all over town, frequently The Wanch, where I’ve seen him perform many times as a member of the Joven Goce Band.

As if all of this wasn’t already enough, he also puts together charity shows and the latest one is coming up on March 20th at Grappa’s Cellar. Titled Finance Live!, it will feature five bands, all of which include musicians who work in Hong Kong’s financial industry.

The proceeds from this show will be going to Hong Kong charity Foodlink, This is the charity that is working to end hunger in Hong Kong primarily by collecting all of the food that hotels and restaurants used to throw out at the end of the day and distributing this food to those in need.  

So in essence, you’re going to have a great night out, hear some great live music, drink a bit (or a lot, if you’re so inclined) and know that you’re helping people in Hong Kong who really need your help.

Finance Live! is almost sold out, but not quite. I’m asking you, my readers, to help make this event a sell out, and to keep an eye out for their future events as well.

If you’re looking to buy tickets, or if you just want further details on this event, drop an email to steve (dot) bernstein (at) sinopac (dot) com.

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BLOHK Party Coming Soon!

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If you haven’t already heard about BLOHK Party, it’s looking huge.  It’s coming just one week after a bigger-than-ever Clockenflap (which I can’t attend this year because it coincides with my wedding). Finally Hong Kong is getting a number of sizable world-class music events.

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On December 7, 2013, Hong Kong will play host to one of the largest upscale one-day events in Asia. Taking the concept of block party (which originated from the streets of New York City) and tailoring it to suit the tastes of Hong Kong – the Inaugural BLOHK PARTY 2013 will take place at the West Kowloon Cultural District.

Curated by Pharrell Williams for I AM OTHER Entertainment, BLOHK PARTY 2013 is an elevated cross-cultural experience bringing together the global community to Hong Kong, enjoying a full day and evening of cultural activities related to music, food, and fashion.

Grammy Award winning musician, Pharrell Williams, will headline the event
which also features Pusha T, & the Ed Banger 10th Year Anniversary World Tour
including live performances and DJ sets by famous French DJ & producer
Breakbot & label boss Busy P (Pedro Winter). Local acts that are
participating include Edison Chen with MC Yan & Chef, LMF, 24 Herbs,
Josie & The Uni Boys and Skibs the Kid. There are more to be announced
soon in the coming weeks.

With a breath-taking view of Hong Kong Island, the West Kowloon Cultural District will be transformed into an urban playground of activities with a large range of offerings from the hippest food establishments in Hong Kong to special fashion areas featuring retail/lifestyle pop-ups by emerging and established brands, providing limited edition and special merchandise only available at the event.

Founded by cultural entrepreneur, Kevin Poon and live events producer, Alex Ng, BLOHK PARTY 2013 promises to be one of the hottest music-led events of the year. In addition to captivating performances by top class international and local musicians and a plethora of cultural activities, BLOHK PARTY 2013 will also feature top-grade VIP areas complete with food and drinks that will cater to the most discerning partygoer.

Pharrell Williams is having his biggest year ever, with his voice being heard on two of this summer’s biggest hits (from Daft Punk and Robin Thicke).  And let’s face it … Grandmaster Flash, need I say anything more?

Standard tickets are HK$788 in advance or HK$888 at the door. Check out their Facebook page – they have frequent contests offering free tickets.

I think this will be an interesting day out and I hope it’s hugely successful so that it will draw other festival style events to our little SAR.

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In Brief – Bar Notes

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I’m not out at night much any more. It takes me up to two hours to get home from work so most week nights, I don’t hang out. I don’t drink alcohol much any more and when I do, it just seems as if there’d be nothing more depressing than sitting on a bus drunk for an hour. But last night, I needed to go out and I needed a few drinks. My friend was in the mood to try a couple of new spots, and so we did.

We started at Push Bar. This is on the corner of Jaffe & Luard in Wanchai, 5th floor above Joe Bananas. It used to be Skitz, a place with a pool table and darts, and a place where a lot of the Filipino musicians in Wanchai cover bands would head on their breaks. Now there’s signs all over about “Dance Club” but we were there from 6 till 8 and there was no dancing. Actually there was almost no one else in the bar but us. The waitress said it gets busy after 10 or 11. What they do have is a large outdoor space where one can smoke. Music? We had to rely on the tinny speakers from our iPhones because (we were told) they weren’t allowed (a loud?) to put speakers outside. There was a hot tub at the end of the deck – partly filled with dirty water.

From there we went to Hong Kong Cafe Pub & Disco. Know what this is? It was Neptune 2 until they lost their liquor license last year. I suppose it took them more than 6 months to re-open because they were waiting for the new license. They certainly didn’t spend much money fixing up the place. They refinished the bar and the table tops and put a few new pictures on the wall. Otherwise, everything is the same – same floors, same staff, same free Neptune 2 lighters. What was missing? People. At 8:30, we were the only customers there. It could be because people don’t know they’ve reopened yet. Or it could be because they’re no longer allowing smoking down there (at least not yet).

Lastly, I’ll mention a bar I haven’t checked out yet. I almost never go to Lan Kwai Fong anymore. But I spotted an ad in the new HK Magazine for Geronimo Shot Bar. I had to check and yes indeed, this is a branch of the place of the same name in Roppongi. It was one of the first bars I ever wandered into in Tokyo, back in 1994 (hopefully it’s still there, I haven’t been to Tokyo in 4 years, dammit) and that one holds a lot of happy memories for me. If I ever do find myself in LKF at night, I’m going to make a point of checking this place out. If any of you have been there yet, leave a note in comments with your impressions please.

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Ian Anderson Hong Kong Concert Updates

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Ian Anderson is coming to Hong Kong on Monday, June 24th, in a show billed as Ian Anderson Plays the Best of Jethro Tull.  I’ll be photographing that show and might have back stage access as well, so aside from finally getting to see Anderson live for the first time, I’m excited to have a chance to meet him and photograph him.

Here’s an interview with Anderson in Music Weekly/Asia in which he discusses the upcoming Hong Kong show.

There will be something unique at the Hong Kong show – HKAPA student and flautist Melody Kuen-Kuen Chuang will be performing with Anderson at the show.

If you haven’t purchased tickets yet, the promoters have also given me discount codes that will get you 15% off on A and B tickets or 40% off on C and D tickets. They have asked me to distribute the codes privately – so I can’t post them here or in comments. If any readers would like the discount code, then send an email to hongkietown at gmail dot com and I’ll send you the codes.

Here’s a terrific clip of Anderson in concert from 2008 – you want to stick with it past the 2 minute mark, when he and the band start to heat things up.

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Ian Anderson Plays the Very Best of Jethro Tull coming to Hong Kong

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Well, for all intensive purposes, Ian Anderson is Jethro Tull.  Originally formed in 1967, Jethro Tull’s music has combined elements of blues, folk, jazz and progressive rock. Their best known albums include Aqualung and Thick as a Brick. (Guitarist Martin Barre was with the group from 1969 onwards, but as of 2011 Tull no longer seems to be a going concern.)

Now lead singer/songwriter/flutist Ian Anderson is including a stop in Hong Kong on June 24th on his current world tour.  It’s his first concert in Hong Kong in 20 years. Top “regular” ticket price is $980, but the promoters have put together some special VIP packages that include the chance to meet and be photographed with Ian Anderson backstage before the concert starts. I’m informed that these packages, which top out at just under $2,500, are almost sold out.

I’ve been a Jethro Tull fan since their first album (which made a huge splash on FM radio in New York when it was released) but I’ve never seen them live so going to this show crosses another item off my bucket list.

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Here’s a quick video that Anderson made inviting Hong Kong fans to the concert. (Link in case you can’t see the embedded video.)

And here’s some concert footage from 1978, Tull performing Thick as a Brick at Madison Square Garden. (Link in case you can’t see the embedded video.)

All of that aside, here’s a little tale of how things work in Hong Kong.  One day about two weeks ago, I’m standing outside the building where I work (on Lockhart Road) having a smoke. This woman comes walking by, looks at me, comes up to me and asks, “Excuse me, do you live in Hong Kong?” I thought she was a tourist and was going to ask me for directions. Instead, she reached into her bag and handed me a flyer for the concert.

Before she could walk away I asked her, “Excuse me, are you associated with the promoters of the show?” She told me she was, so I asked for her card. As soon as I got back to my desk, I sent her an email with links to my portfolio and asking if I could get a media pass to photograph the concert. I didn’t hear anything for a week and I figured, okay, that’s that, but then this week I received an email from her husband. No, it didn’t say “leave my wife alone you xxx,” it said that he liked my portfolio and that he wanted to meet to discuss my request.

So I’ve now been hired to shoot the backstage stuff as well as photograph the concert, and I’m thrilled. The promoters are a new company called Euro Asia Entertainment and this is the first show they’re producing in Hong Kong. They seem to be quite well connected on the international music scene and mentioned to me some of the other acts they plan to bring to Hong Kong in the future. I’m not free to share any names but let’s just say that if things work out, this Ian Anderson show will be the tip of the iceberg.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the concert.

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