The Sohos of New York and London may be more well known, but their cousin in Hong Kong is no less worth visiting. Located on a steep hill just south of Hollywood Road (as the SoHo name suggests) is a neighbourhood of tightly packed side streets brimming with bistros, bars and boutiques.
Up until the mid-1990s, Hong Kong’s SoHo was a working-class residential neighbourhood. Back then, there were no luxuries like lifts or air conditioning. You’d see old men in vests sitting outside their homes, smoking bamboo pipes beside displays of antiques that had been ‘brought’ over from China. But if you head here today, you’ll find an upscale neighbourhood with a thriving bar scene, contemporary art galleries and first-class restaurants. Heritage buildings from the colonial era have undergone multimillion-dollar renovations to accommodate an influx of trendy cafés, design shops and fashion boutiques. Here’s a guide to some of the best things to see, do, eat and drink in this historic neighbourhood.
A series of outdoor escalators might not seem like much. But this innocuous development turned an unpleasant 135-metre (445-foot) vertical climb into a 20-minute cloud-watching/smartphone-gazing break. Before these escalators were built, SoHo was just an area that happened to be between where people lived (Mid-Levels) and where people worked (Central). Now the entire route is lined with some of the best bars, restaurants and boutiques in the city. Shuttling around 78,000 people every day, these hardworking escalators run downhill from 6-10am and uphill from 10am-midnight, to help get commuters to and from work. Once you get to the top you’ll be greeted with dramatic views of Hong Kong’s towering cityscape.
The Police Married Quarters houses a range of bars, boutiques and bakeries | Courtesy of PMQ
Once the living quarters for officers serving in the nearby Central Police Station, this Aberdeen Street heritage building has since been repurposed as an art and design space. The main atrium hosts street festivals, exhibitions and pop-up shops, and on the ground floor you’ll find bars, boutiques and bakeries. Head here on a weekend for live music and craft beer, or come during the week to relax with a pastry and a coffee.
Built between 1864 and 1925, the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts used to be an old complex of 16 colonial buildings that housed the Central Police Station, Victoria Prison and the Central Magistracy. Today, it’s a peaceful enclave for creative inspiration smack bang in the middle of the city. For an unusual drinking experience, hit up Behind Bars, which is located in a series of former jail cells or, if you’re looking for something more refined, try Dragonfly, an Art Nouveau-style cocktail bar. However, Tai Kwun hasn’t completely shucked its history as a former prison: visitors can take a walk in Ho Chi Minh’s exercise yard and tour through the jail cells via video displays.
This Chinese diner offers classic comfort food with a playful twist, and is the brainchild of Asia’s Best Female Chef 2017, May Chow. As the name Little Bao suggests, the main offerings here are Cantonese buns stuffed with fillings like pork belly and fried chicken. Those with a sweet tooth can go for buns filled with green-tea ice cream or deep-fried bao drizzled with condensed milk. Portions are generous and meant for sharing. The decor is modern and hip: walls are lined with images of vintage Hong Kong mailboxes and diners are seated on bar stools along counter spaces. This popular restaurant has a no-reservations policy, so expect to wait.
Located on a steep slope at the corner of Graham Street and Hollywood Road is Old Townhouses Mural. It is said to be the most photographed wall in Hong Kong and is surrounded by selfie sticks and snap-happy tourists at almost all hours of the day. Created by Alex Croft, the artwork features rows of traditional Hong Kong tenements on a bright blue background. The mural was commissioned by lifestyle brand G.O.D (Goods of Desire, a shop located in PMQ) and inspired by its signature print, Yaumati.
Happy Paradise offers a cool yet casual dining and drinking experience | Courtesy of Happy Paradise
Happy Paradise is owned and operated by celebrity chefs May Chow and John Javier. Together, they’ve created a wildly creative SoHo hangout, which offers a cool yet casual dining and drinking experience. Boldly designed with neon lighting and fluorescent artwork, this funky restaurant brings the outside in with its retro decor inspired by Hong Kong’s streets. But while the look might convince a passerby to stop off for a spontaneous drink, the food will guarantee repeat visits. The menu offers a modern take on Cantonese fare, from forgotten recipes such as slow-cooked chrysanthemum chicken to well-loved classics like sweet and sour pork. Make sure you sample the five-spice G&T.
Located on Hollywood Road, Contemporary by Angela Li is one of the most exciting avant-garde art galleries in Hong Kong. While the 186,000-square-metre (2,000-square-foot) exhibition space is mainly devoted to modern art, there’s also a strong focus on photography and new media. Exhibitions are curated to promote artists from Hong Kong and China. Established in 2008, the gallery has previously hosted artworks by Li Hongbo, Georgia Russell and Wu Didi.
Our debut short film, The Soul of Soho, explores neighborhoods separated by oceans, history and culture but united by craft community and change. Neighborhoods bound by one name: Soho. Intimate portraits of city living in the Sohos of London, New York and Hong Kong reveal rich stories of the people who bring life to these iconic neighborhoods. Explore Soho here.