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Inside Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage & Arts

By Amanda Sheppard 20 September 2018
With the doors of the long-awaited heritage and arts centre finally open to the public, the vast complex has more in store than most visitors can absorb in a single visit. Tai Kwun – which loosely translates to ‘Big Station’ in Cantonese – consists of 16 historic structures, including remnants of the 19th Century Victoria Prison, the old Central Police Station and the Central Magistracy. These stand proudly alongside two newly constructed buildings: Old Bailey Galleries and Arbuthnot Auditorium (projects led by Swiss architecture firm Herzog de Meuron). We step inside the $3.6 billion complex that took more than a decade to complete, to see just what it has in store for visitors. [gallery columns="4" size="full" link="none" ids="127026,127027,127028,127029"]

Images courtesy of Tai Kwun

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A sprawling complex with ample outdoor areas – Tai Kwun would be missing a beat if it hadn’t hidden a bar or two within its walls. Luckily, it’s done just that, offering everything from creative cocktails at the latest Ashley Sutton venture, Dragonfly, to the prison-themed Behind Bars, which offers quiet, alcove seating areas housed in former prison cells. True to its nature, you’ll have to buy and collect your drinks in an orderly fashion – no bending the rules permitted. When there’s fair-weather on the horizon, opt for an alfresco drink at the Bar at The Armoury, which overlooks the courtyard and offers a buzzing atmosphere.


From quirky cafés and eateries to fine dining experiences, restaurants have rule of the roost at Tai Kwun. Serving up modern, innovative Jiangnan food housed in the JC Contemporary arts building, Old Bailey boasts a spacious outdoor terrace offering views of Central and Mid-Levels. Popular vegetarian dim sum restaurant Lock Cha Tea House has opened its doors in Tai Kwun, alongside a tea shop. The team behind Kee Club have opened Madame Fu in the Barracks Block. The vast, 8,000 square foot space boasts private dining areas, a whisky lounge, and modern Cantonese fare – all housed in a picture-perfect setting guaranteed to leave Instagrammers feeling snap happy. Parisian Café Claudel offers quintessentially French dishes from its 1930s-era eatery, while Aaharn and its modern Thai cuisine, housed within the Armoury Building, is set to open its doors in October. Restaurant group Aqua also opened three spaces in the Headquarters Block in September – Chinese Library, showcasing owner David Yeo's substantial cookbook collection, modern British restaurant Statement, and bar and lounge The Dispensary.


Given that this is Hong Kong, it’s no surprise that this new complex is home to a shop or two. The independent boutiques offer a range of goods, from homeware store Loveramics to the Hahaha Florist, which sells all manner of floral creations. Yuen’s Tailor is a bespoke tailoring service led by Bonny, who has been sewing suits since the age of 15, that recently relocated to Tai Kwun. Elsewhere in the complex, renowned Chinese designer Vivienne Tam has opened her sixth Hong Kong store, and for the green-thumbed among us, Bonart offers a great selection of plant-based decorations, as well as terrarium workshops for those ready to give it a go and add a personal touch to their home decor.
[caption id="attachment_127042" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Stills from Cao Fei's solo exhibition. Image courtesy of Tai Kwun[/caption]

Art & Culture 

JC Contemporary hosts between six and eight exhibitions annually. From now until December 9, renowned Chinese multimedia artist Cao Fei's solo exhibition, A Hollow in a World Too Full, is on display. The exhibition is spread across multiple floors and includes a Roomba installation as well as a screening, where visitors are invited to sit on prison bunkbeds to view the film. Tai Kwun also plays host to live music performances on Saturdays, and free film screenings every Sunday afternoon on the Laundry Steps.
Read more! Explore the rest of our Art & Culture section on Localiiz.

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Following a brief and bitterly cold stint in Scotland, Amanda returned to Hong Kong—a place she’s called home for over 18 years—to begin her career as a writer. She can often be found getting lost somewhere very familiar, planning her next holiday, and enjoying a cup (or three) of good, strong coffee.