By LUXE City Guides; images by Jeremy Cheung
If retail runs through Hong Kong’s arteries, then Causeway Bay is the beating heart that keeps it going. From big-name designer brands piled atop one another in gleaming glass towers to rising stars in street style, fashion feels at home in the district. However, it’s much more than just a shopper’s paradise. Venture beyond the multitude of malls and discover an alluring enclave that’s brimming with character, Hong Kong Island’s largest public park and a rich history tied to its past as a former fishing village.
Named after the cove that it’s now built on top of, Causeway Bay’s erstwhile coastline is today marked by Tung Lo Wan Road, while landmarks including a 19th-century Tin Hau temple dedicated to the goddess of the sea, the Noon Day Gun and a bronze statue of British monarch Queen Victoria recall the territory’s Chinese and colonial influences.
Now home to some of the highest retail rents in the world, the area’s eye-watering real estate has forced businesses to be creative. A little bit of vertical exploration goes a long way, independent boutiques and local eateries are often hidden away from the ground floor.
Nighttime shopping is de rigeur, and is often followed by a belated dinner and rooftop drinks. The district’s skyscrapers and hotels are perfectly positioned to provide a moment’s repose, complete with panoramic vistas of Hong Kong’s dazzling cityscape. Alternatively, low-rise, village-like Tai Hang feels worlds away, when in fact it is just a few minutes’ distance, offering welcoming neighbourhood haunts.
With crowds that can make it feel like all of Hong Kong has descended on Causeway Bay, it’s a place of contrast and contradiction, at once busy and quiet, frustrating and rewarding, it’s a microcosm of Hong Kong that makes a lasting impression.
Marvel at the cityscape, cocktail in hand, at one of Causeway Bay’s hip rooftop bars.
Sample a cup of traditional Hong Kong-style milk tea from a dai pai dong.
Bag a bargain and fill your suitcase with the latest trends from the streets.
Get snap happy with the city’s younger generation leading the analogue photography revolution.
Find souvenirs with both style and substance from artisanal Hong Kong brands.
In a city as vertically inclined as Hong Kong, head upward to Skye, perched atop The Park Lane Hong Kong to enjoy a drink with a view. A space-age vision of sweeping curves and colour-changing illuminations, it offers both indoor and alfresco seating. To take full advantage of the spectacular Victoria Harbour vista, settle outside, where the twinkling cityscape provides a picture-perfect backdrop against which to enjoy one of the bar’s playfully named cocktails, all set to the soundtrack of an in-house DJ.
Favoured by Causeway Bay’s monochrome-clad denizens, Ink is renowned among the city’s style set for its curation of menswear, womenswear and accessories from pioneering European designers, all artfully arranged within minimal surrounds. The store shuns mainstream labels, instead you will find little-known, next-big-thing brands such as Delada and Carol Christian Poell hanging out alongside the likes of DRKSHDW for Rick Owens and Ambust. Better still, the staff are welcoming, helpful and lack pretension, which makes Ink’s high-fashion credibility all the more legitimate.
Part private kitchen, part restaurant, what Sijie lacks in pomp and circumstance it more than makes up for in authenticity, flavour and value for money. Sharing dishes is the order of the day, so it is better to go as a large group. Be certain to sample the Sichuan cold noodles — deliciously chewy noodles in mouth-numbing fiery chilli oil — and the poached fish in hot chilli oil. Book ahead as Sijie only has eight tables.
10/F, Bartlock Centre, 3 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong Island (View on Map)
+852 2802 2250
Founded by the grandson of a local ceramics manufacturer in 2008, Loveramics celebrates style and whimsy through its beautifully designed collections of crockery and dishware, which mix the contemporary and traditional. Its signature collection, Er-go!, is a study in the power of simplicity and available in a kaleidoscope of colours — in fact, it’s so good it graces the tables of some of the city’s best-loved restaurants. A true homegrown brand.
Finding a good patisserie in Hong Kong is not always easy. At least, that is, until Tai Hang’s Plumcot opened its doors in summer 2017. Run by a husband and wife team who knead, fold and glaze everything themselves, the bijou bakery has earned a reputation as one of the best in town, not only for its perfectly flaky croissants but also for its experimental ice creams, including the intriguing blue cheese flavour. Arrive early for a piece of the pie, it sells out on an almost daily basis.
For fashion, shopping, food and people watching
Once the site of Hong Kong’s first ice factory, today Causeway Bay keeps the city cool in a very different way. The district’s bustling pavements — where all walks of life shuffle cheek-by-jowl past one another in the shadows of lustrous skyscrapers — are a barometer of trends, offering almost as much insight into what’s in vogue as the catwalks of London or Paris. Pause at any major intersection and take a moment to observe the myriad cuts, colours, fabrics and silhouettes on show; this is street style in its most authentic form.
James Woodward, creative director of a local design agency, calls the area home and advocates it as an inspiration. “Visually, there’s so much that stimulates in Causeway Bay,” he says. “From the bright, neon lights that illuminate it at night to the clothes that everyone is wearing, there’s always something new to notice. And it’s great for people watching.”
One of his favourite spots to sit and attend as the world goes by is Elephant Grounds, a coffee shop located in the aptly named Fashion Walk. Established by the poster boy for Hong Kong cool kids, Kevin Poon, it serves a fine cup of joe from its white-and-wood surrounds, as well as lunch, dinner and stiffer drinks should they be desired. When temperate, its natty patrons spill out onto the Instagram-approved alfresco benches.
For those seeking a chic awakening, Island Beverly Center is a good place in which to get lost. Euphemistically called a mini-mall, its four floors are crammed with micro-shops peddling the latest styles from Asia’s fashion capitals, Seoul and Tokyo. Boasting wallet-friendly clothes, jewellery, shoes, accessories and everything in between, it’s see-now, buy-now done right and the easiest way to discover what’s hot at any given moment. Jewellery designer Anne Yuen admits that she peruses the baubles when in need of new ideas. “I love wandering around Island Beverly,” she says. “It’s always so inspiring — there’s just so much to take in. I always come away from there with a lot of vision and motivation, and normally with a few new purchases too.”
For fashion that’s not quite so fast, follow the sneakerheads as they ascend to one of the city’s original skateboard and streetwear stores, 8five2. Named for Hong Kong’s international dial code and opened in 1999 (which makes it older than some of its clientele) the glass-fronted, marble-floored sanctuary is a modish temple of cool, with impeccably styled wares from underground and established brands presented on brilliant white shelves.
Analogue photography is now the hipster’s hobby of choice and Causeway Bay is the Hong Kong Island point of confluence for amateurs and aficionados alike, many of whom turn to Showa Lab when the last shot has been taken. Simplicity is central to Showa Lab’s approach, ensuring that it does film development well and often at lightning speed. It also carries vintage cameras, a wide range of film and modified Polaroid cameras – surely the ultimate scenester accessory.
Sarha Kim, who works in fashion, chooses to live in the district not only for its cosmopolitan mix of local and international, but also because it’s where her preferred haunts are located. “I might be giving away a hidden gem here, but my absolute favourite spot in Causeway Bay is this lovely authentic Japanese teppanyaki spot called Kozy,” says Kim. “It only seats about 20 people at the same time so it’s virtually impossible to get a table without a reservation. The ambience is always lively – I would recommend perching at the bar and ordering a highball.”
That Kim’s favoured eatery is Japanese instead of Cantonese, is indicative of Causeway Bay’s globalisation, whether in terms of style or flavour. However, what it does so well, is take that outside influence and transform it into something that is distinctively Hong Kong, a place where opposites attract and the younger generation is well dressed.
For culture, food, hip vibe, old-school Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a city of extremes, and few places better embody its multiplicities than Tai Hang, a quiet and quaint corner of frenetic Causeway Bay. Located to the south of Victoria Park, a pleasant stroll away from some of the city’s most congested thoroughfares, Tai Hang is an unhurried enclave with working-class roots. A slum until its redevelopment in the 1990s, it retains the distinctive charms of old Hong Kong, even in the face of gentrification. By day, auto-repair shops clang and clatter and dai pai dongs do a steady trade of steaming milk tea and glistening char siu pork. When night falls, it comes to life again, this time with the chatter of the city’s millennials, who gather to savour modern Cantonese bites and sip on craft brews.
To get a real feel for Tai Hang, daylight-to-dark visits are encouraged, and, although compact, its grid-like warren of narrow streets and side passages are a delight to explore. Architect Tommy Pao-Watari, who worked on a project in the area, was attracted to what he calls its beautiful mistakes. “The streets are small and riddled with alleyways, the buildings have quirky outcrops and small repurposed alterations, and the charming scale of the blocks hints at a past life of a very closely-knit community,” he says.
For a taste of true Hong Kong comfort food, join the queue outside beloved dai pai dong Bing Kee. Renowned throughout the city for its rather potent naai cha (milk tea), it also serves a tooth-achingly sweet French toast that is as delicious as it is indulgent.
When writer and editor Pavan Shamdasani swapped Sheung Wan for Tai Hang four years ago, he found somewhere that he was proud to call home. “It's literally a village smackdab in the middle of the city; a quiet, low-rise local escape that's just streets away from the endless bustle of Causeway Bay,” he says. “And while hipster bars and restaurants are forever trying to take over the area, the soulless ones quickly fail, while the ones that remain add enough character that they fit in effortlessly. For someone who considers themselves forever a Hongkonger, that contrasting blend of nostalgia and forward-progression is strangely comforting.” He recommends neighbourhood watering hole Buddy Bar for its “great cocktails and good beer list, all at affordable prices.”
Of the hipster haunts that succeed, Second Draft is worth whiling away an evening at. The second project from local hero and Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2017, May Chow, in collaboration with Young Master Ales, the city’s leading craft brewery, the spacious spot is perennially packed with Hong Kong’s bright young things. A true gastropub, the dishes excite as much as the beers, and although both menus are constantly evolving, bold interpretations of classic local flavours are guaranteed.
Hop over to Lily Street where Melburnian transplant Fineprint serve java and breakfast plates by day, and a fine selection of wines and cocktails by night. Riffing on the mod-Oz vibe, Elementary is a stripped-back communal diner dishing up contemporary Asian-Middle Eastern-European shared plates to a hungry cosmopolitan crowd.
In spite of Tai Hang’s relaxed reputation, there are three days of the year when it is anything but calm. The area’s Fire Dragon Dance dates back to the 19th century, when villagers first performed the ritual in an effort to stop a spate of bad luck. Now observed over three nights for Mid-Autumn Festival, it takes around 300 performers and 24,000 incense sticks to bring the enormous dragon to life and parade the streets each evening, making it a spectacular sight to behold and a living example of the city’s rich cultural heritage.
That this ceremony plays out against the backdrop of Tai Hang should come as little surprise — it is one of few places left in Hong Kong where the old is as lustrous and loved as the new, an alluring mix that makes it a must on any visitor’s itinerary.
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