Header image courtesy of @kobiiiiii (via Instagram)
Supposedly, a New York minute is like a Hong Kong second—which is to say that life moves pretty darn quickly around these parts. While Hong Kong is absolutely steeped in history, there are not as many tangible or relevant examples of it as we would like—which is why we are so thrilled when we do come across historically significant places that have been revitalised for modern visitors. From former munitions depots turned into state-of-the-art wine cellars to cafés housed in old traditional Chinese medicine clinics, here are some of our favourite revitalised restaurants, bars, and coffee shops in Hong Kong with interesting historical pasts.
Soothe what ails you—if what ails you is a case of the early morning grumps—at Tai Wo Tang. Throughout its 90-year life, Tai Wo Tang has been a medicinal ginseng store, a family-run traditional Chinese medicine clinic, and now a hip café. Holdovers from the original Tai Wo Tang—such as the nearly hundred-year-old apothecary cabinet—remain in use, serving as pieces of living history, while historical photos of the clinic placed carefully around the space provide a look into the past.
Tai Wo Tang’s precise balance of historical Hong Kong culture and modern tastes is carried through to the menu, which is populated with fusion dishes like the foie gras-stuffed Tai Wo Tang pineapple bun ($78) and baked pork chop risotto ($138).
Tai Wo Tang (大和堂), 24 Nga Tsin Long Road, Kowloon City | (+852) 2623 2006
With its smart blue shopfront and stylish industrial interiors, So Coffee and Gin may look like another hip new Sham Shui Po café-slash-bar at first glance—but it’s actually been owned by the same family for 70 years. As a tribute to its previous life, its owners have turned it into a mini-museum of sorts, with vintage sewing machines and other memorabilia from its days as Man Hing Sewing Machine Company displayed around its two storeys.
If you’re interested in learning more, flip over to the back page of their menu after you’ve picked your poison—we like the whisky tea ($52)—and read all about the neighbourhood’s history as a textile hub. For a more hands-on learning experience, however, you’ll have to explore the space, pore over the usage instructions for the vintage Singer sewing machine, or watch the slides projected upstairs.
So Coffee & Gin, 221 Lai Chi Kok Road, Sham Shui Po
Have your day in court—and a cup of coffee while you’re at it—at TeamYum Caffé, a bright, pet-friendly café housed in the former Fanling Magistracy, which dates back to 1960. Following the law courts’ relocation to a larger facility in 2002, the building remained empty for a while until it was renovated to become the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups Leadership Institute.
It feels only fitting that TeamYum Caffé is a similarly community-driven space, with its proprietor Ah Shum—a former social worker—running regular markets to promote local businesses, hosting community events, and decorating the café with cheery paintings and hand-drawn signs of encouragement.
TeamYum Caffé, 302 Jockey Club Road, Fanling | (+852) 6759 9141
If you’ve hiked the Pinewood Battery Heritage Trail or taken a dip down at Cape Collinson Battery, you’ll be familiar with the sight of abandoned Second World War relics. However, what you may not realise is that there’s a cluster of meticulously restored and historically significant underground bunkers in Deep Water Bay—and you can actually eat there. (If you know the right people.)
Built in 1937, The Central Ordnance Munitions Depot—or “Little Hong Kong”—comprised 24 secure military bunkers, manned by 60 soldiers who guarded the stores of weapons and ammunition. During the 18-day Battle of Hong Kong in 1941, Little Hong Kong was the last place to surrender to the Japanese army, who used it until the liberation of Hong Kong from Japanese rule in 1945.
In the following decades, a number of the bunkers were destroyed to make way for residential developments while the rest lay unused until Crown Worldwide Group proposed renovating the eight remaining serviceable bunkers into a state-of-the-art wine facility.
The site—which was recognised by UNESCO for conserving Hong Kong’s heritage—now comprises six cellars, the main bunker with a bar, a library, and a newly built glass conservatory and restaurant. While members of the public are welcome to join the facility’s monthly guided tours, you’ll have to make friends with a member (or attend one of the many weddings hosted there) if you want to eat in this unique setting.
Crown Wine Cellars, 18 Deep Water Bay Drive, Shouson Hill | (+852) 2580 6287
Another bunker-turned-restaurant—which is accessible to all—is the striking AMMO (short for “Asia, Modern, Museum, and Original”), an Italian-Japanese fusion restaurant located at the Asia Society’s Admiralty compound. It was the former explosives storage facility—another inspiration behind the name—for the much-larger Victoria Barracks, which used to encompass swathes of modern-day Admiralty and Mid-Levels.
While the restaurant itself is a modern, Alphaville-inspired vision of glass and metal by renowned Hong Kong designer Joyce Wang, it pays homage to the site’s history in a number of thoughtful ways. The dramatic vaulted ceiling was designed to evoke those found in underground bunkers, while the use of copper in its steampunk-esque fittings harks back to the Victorian era (and resembles machinery, natch).
AMMO, Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty | (+852) 2537 9888
When it comes to locating a superb gin and tonic, an old ping pong hall is probably the last place most people would think to look—but that’s precisely where to go if you’re in Sai Ying Pun. Spanish gintonería Ping Pong 129—so named because it used to be a ping pong hall, and occupies 129 Second Street—may have bid adieu to the paddles and nets of its past, but a few remnants of Ping Pong City remain.
Push past the crimson red door with its original Chinese lettering and venture down the long staircase to discover this cavernous bar. Its original pillars offer a glimpse into its past, while a neon light saying “鍛練身體” (exercise your body; dyun3 lin6 san1 tai2) casts its orange-red glow over the hundred-odd bottles of gin.
Ping Pong 129, 129 Second Street, Sai Ying Pun | (+852) 9835 5061