Photos by Justine Tai
What do you know about Hong Kong?
Yeah, I don’t know much either, but I did spend some time there recently. I got a sweet writing gig helping this little restaurant called Yardbird with a book they’re putting out next year. My task was simple. Fly to Hong Kong, hang out at their Izakaya and interview their staff and friends while getting full with their incredible food and drunk on their delicious drinks.
And that’s what I did. But I did get a feel for the place too, a sense for Hong Kong’s comings and goings. And I did get very drunk and very full. Hong Kong is one of world’s leading financial centres boasting the world’s freest economy. It also serves as a gateway to China/the world’s major production.
You’ll meet people who have way more money than you. You will meet zero homeless people. And you will see lots of high rises and luxury cars. There are many gross bars on the tops of high rises that have incredible views looking out to a neon-lit city. These places are full of douchebag rich dudes and the buxom, botoxed women who want to marry them, but between all that there is some rad stuff going on too, one of the most advanced streetwear cultures in the world, and really, really fucking good food.
8 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan
Ronin got named one of the 50 best restaurants in Asia the other day, and while I’m no expert in geography, I’m pretty sure Asia is a big place, with probably quite a few restaurants. Ronin is the second restaurant opened by Yardbird’s Jang and Abergel. It’s a Japanese whiskey bar slash seafood place. Considering Yardbird is amazing, it’s no surprise that Ronin isn’t a shit place to drink and eat at either. You need to make a reservation for this one, and there is no sign on the door, so it might be a little hard to find. A meal and whiskey here’ll hurt the wallet a little more, but the market fresh seafood put together by a dude who is considered one of the world’s most talented seafood chefs will be the best you’ve ever had. It was for me, anyway. People fly to Hong Kong just to come here. Not bad for a degenerate skater from Calgary.
33 Bridges Street, Sheung Wan
Yardbird is a modern izakaya (Japanese pub) that specialises in yakitori (chicken skewers cooked over charcoal) and general rowdiness. It’s regarded as world class by the sorts of institutions that regard things, but it has none of the stuffiness, nor the price tag of a world-class place. Instead, it’s laidback and friendly. The restaurant’s founders are a former couple who met working in a skate shop in their teens in Canada: Matt Abergel, the head chef trained under a world-renowned Japanese hardass chef Masa in New York, while the other co-founder, Lindsay Jang, developed their front of house after running the floor at world-renowned Nobu. The result is service I didn’t know existed in hospitality and simple chicken skewers that have you banging your fist on the table with your first bite.
Legendary Chocolate Skateboards artist Evan Hecox did their logo, and Vans provides the staff with their shoes. The interior design is simplistic and purposeful too—the walls are empty save for a single Christian Hosoi signed skateboard. The neck to tail chicken skewers are the mainstay, but the Korean fried cauliflower or the sweet corn tempura are must-orders that’ll rip your shirt off. There’s no reservations, and the wait for a table can be a little long, but not to worry, you can drink their cocktails on the street as you do. Grab a Suntory whiskey highball (or their own brand of sake), let the staff pick the food for you, and you’ll be on your way to a classic, blurry Yardbird night. It’s a fun time.
Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon
In the early 90s, when I was seven, a giant department store for kids opened in the West field two suburbs over. They called it World 4 Kids and it was the most exciting thing on the planet. Aisles upon aisles of toys that were kilometres long reached for the ceiling that was sky high. Just being near the entrance of the behemoth would send you sugar high with excitement. Now I don’t know dick about sneakers, but I get the feeling that Sneaker Street is like World 4 Kids for people who do.
Across the river and off the island to Kowloon, in an area called Mong Kok (which is a lot of fun to say) is where you’ll find it. It’s officially named Fa Yuen Street, but called Sneaker Street because, well, it’s full of fucking shoes. Every major brand you can think of has their own shop. It’s like walking around Times Square New York, if the M&Ms shop at Times Square was Nike SP Dunks, or Jordans, or Converse or Vans or whatever. There is a higher concentration of various top brand shoes here than anywhere else in the world. Hong Kong is a world leader in that Hypebeast, High Snobiety, Supreme-loving style of streetwear. Sneaker Street is its idiotic beating heart. Worth checking out even if you don’t give a shit.
213 Queens Road West, Hong Kong
Look, I know travelling to somewhere that isn’t Australia to sit in a cafe that is the same as any decent one you can find in Melbourne or Sydney or… Warrnambool is pretty dumb, and not really the point of travel. But sometimes you just need a good coffee, a good sandwich and an unassuming little space to pull out your laptop and get some work done, away from that Asian humidity and hustle. Winston’s coffee is good. It’s reliable. And they do a killer espresso martini (and other cocktails), solid cheese toasties, and there’s a sick old-timey movie style sign above their shopfront. Winner.
Hong Kong Station
Teeming around HK are the coolest looking cabs on the planet, every single one of them a boxy 1995 Toyota Comfort painted a rich red with a silver roof. God, they’re good. The star ferry is a quaint looking boat that’ll get you across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon and back that’s a super popular tourist to-do. And the double-decker tram is a bizarre looking iconic remnant of HK’s British Empire past; a wild site to see flying by on a narrow, busy street. Like a building on tracks. But Hong Kong’s trains are the stars of HK’s public travel, most notably, the way you can check in for your flight, luggage and all, in the middle of the city.
One of the biggest pains with travel is lugging that cumbersome and awkward luggage around as you go from where you’re staying to the train station, around the airport, all over the fricken place. Kill me. In Hong Kong you can do a thing called “in town check in”, available at one of the two Airport Express stations. Grab your boarding passes, drop your bags and wave goodbye to them because you won’t see them till you land at your next destination. It’s just like that relief you get when you finally check in at the airport and can go and dick around at the food court and magazine stands, only instead of being constricted to the airport, you’ve got the whole city at your disposal. It’s so genius it makes you wonder why every city doesn’t do the same. The trains are also wonderful, clean, easy to use, cheap, and, again, like a lot of things in HK, considered the best in the world. The jerks.
66 Staunton Street, Sheung Wan
The giant, cute baby logo lit up on the pastel wall caught my eye while I was walking around Hong Kong, and dragged me through the welcome door. Quick Google later and it turns out it’s one of the hot test newer snack joints in Hong Kong. Chinese burgers on a dinky little corner that’s as tasty as it is fun to hang out in. Little Bao brings an American diner experience to a Chinese classic, both in decor and in taste, combining things like steamed rice rolls with mac n’ cheese. So good. While the classics are the pork belly, chicken, and fish tempura baos, the LB ice cream sandwich—green tea ice cream sandwiched between sweet fried buns—is the sort of shit that brings you to the same place five times on a five-day trip.
Fucking everywhere, Hong Kong
There are a lot of bars in Hong Kong, but do you know where the best place to drink is? The fucking sidewalk. Drinking on the street is 100% legal in Hong Kong. It ’s not even frowned upon. You can walk into a 7/11, buy a beer and drink it while you walk around the city, stopping at the next 7/11 to grab another. There is no reason to not have a beer in your hand at any point of your stay in the Pearl of The Orient. Walking to work? That sounds like thirsty work my friend, why not grab a beer for the journey? Catching the train to a bar mitzvah? Mazel Tov, pour yourself a big delicious beer! Need to rinse your sweaty face after sightseeing under the hot sun? Sure, you could use a bottle of water, but where else can you legally shower yourself in delicious beer in the middle of the street before lunch? Live a little! 7/11 is the cheapest and most convenient place to ensure you are never sober while you’re in HK. What a dream!
2/F, 48 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong
Between two bars, on a weird street in Central, there is an open door to a bizarre, skinny corridor. It looks like the opening to some mediocre apartments or office buildings. It’s called Winning Centre. Go through it, get in the elevator and let it take you to floor 2. It’s weird, but when the lift opens, all of a sudden you’re not in a crappy feeling apartment elevator. You’re in Racks City, something between a divey, grimey pool hall, and a club. The drinks are cheap, the lights dim, the music loud, and the vibe is loose. Also, you can smoke inside. It’s like drinking before 2007, remember that? When you’d come home and your clothes would stink of cigarette smoke instead of perspiration. Those were the days. Relive them at Racks!
CHOI HUNG BASKETBALL COURT
Choi Hung Estate, Wong Tai Sin, Kowloon
Honestly, I’ve never been to this particular basketball court. I included it here in this little guide to Hong Kong because it’s so photogenic. But there are a lot of great public courts and 7-a side soccer pitches on rooftops throughout HK that are well maintained, beautiful to look at, and great for a quick pick up game if hooping is your thing. And would you take a look at this one? So rad. The Choi Hung Basketball court is on the top of a car park in the middle of one of Hong Kong’s oldest housing estates. The funniest part of getting there is that when you need a cab to take you off the island, rather than sticking your arm out to hail one like normal, you have to signal your intention to get across the river by doing a wave- like ocean move with your arm. Like one half of that breakdance move. No shit. I thought I was being set up as a prank when I got told to do it, until, like a secret code, the taxi driver responded by miming his own water wave back to me in confirmation.