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Your ultimate guide to Tai Kwun, Hong Kong’s centre for heritage & arts

By Catharina Cheung 28 January 2021

Header image courtesy of @taikwun.hk (via Instagram)

There probably isn’t a city dweller passing by Central who doesn’t notice the looming colonial buildings smack dab in the middle of Hollywood Road, replete with huge arched windows, ionic columns, and handsome granite and brick façades. This is Tai Kwun, Hong Kong’s centre for heritage and arts, a non-profit cultural revitalisation project that likely remains our city’s largest yet. Aside from a bevvy of heritage experiences, thematic art exhibitions, and immersive public programmes, this gorgeous compound is also home to some fantastic bars and restaurants. Here is your dedicated guide to exploring, shopping, eating, and drinking in Tai Kwun.

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A history of Tai Kwun

Also known as the Former Central Police Station Compound, the 300,000-square-feet Tai Kwun actually comprises of 14 old buildings dating between 1864 and 1925, three of which are declared monuments: the former Central Police Station, the Former Central Magistracy, and Victoria Prison. The locals colloquially referred to this compound as 大館 (daai6 gun2), meaning “Big Station,” a name which has now lived on in its modern iteration.

The latter monument is Hong Kong’s first prison, originally known as the Victorial Gaol. It has been recorded that a Qing dynasty diplomat visited the Central Police Station in 1867, and noted that Victoria Prison was a three-storey building where maximum security prisoners were held at the top level. Hồ Chí Minh was also imprisoned here from 1931 to 1933.

After being occupied by the Japanese military and later serving as a repatriation centre for refugees, the old Central Police Station Compound was officially decommissioned and vacated in 2006. Two years later, the government collaborated with the Hong Kong Jockey Club to preserve and revitalise the site, adding two new post-modern buildings to contrast with the existing old architecture, bringing the total number of buildings in Tai Kwun to 16. In 2019, Tai Kwun won the Award of Excellence in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

Things to see & do

Art and heritage exhibitions

As a cultural destination first and foremost, it only makes sense to dedicate some of your time at Tai Kwun to exploring its artistic offerings. Their normally packed calendar of approximately six to eight major shows and exhibitions per year may have significantly lessened due to the pandemic, but there are still events available to view. Check out 55 Squared, a seasonal initiative to engage visitors creatively with Tai Kwun’s outdoor spaces—this iteration is a project with artist Cheng Hung, who has created a mural named “Unfurling the Scroll,” inspired by Tai Kwun’s arched colonnades.

The Hong Kong International Film Festival Society’s Cine Fan programme also organises screenings of curated movies at JC Cube, while the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra regularly holds performances called the Chamber Music Series. There are many more recurring programmes to be found, so keep an eye out! If all else fails, then at the very least you will be able to view public art created by five local and international artists at the Prison Yard.

Photo credit: Tai Kwun

Jail cells

As part of their preservation efforts, some cells that were part of the old Victoria Prison have been retained and open for the public to visit. Head over to D Hall to find a number of old prison cells with their original numbers and locks intact. They have now been converted into heritage storytelling spaces that pay tribute to its former life, and are a fascinating look into Hong Kong penal system that used to be inaccessible to the public.

Photo credit: @ooocamelliaooo (via Instagram)

Courtyard

It may not sound like a huge deal, but Tai Kwun provides a rare courtyard area that is open for public use. Considering that our city is so dense, it’s incredible to have a dedicated space right in the heart of it all that is deliberately kept empty and wide open. During summer, beach chairs are scattered around the Parade Ground, and it’s great to kick back with a drink and watch the crowds go by, surrounded on all sides by some of Hong Kong’s most beautiful historical buildings.

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Where to shop

Amidst the array of lifestyle, local designers, apparel, and decorative shops spread around Tai Kwun, here are our favourites to spend time wandering around in.

Photo credit: Tai Kwun

Taschen

Tai Kwun is home to globally leading art book publisher Taschen’s first store in Asia, and this store is one of our favourites to leisurely visit, because we always find a fascinating book or five to leaf through. The 1,300-square-foot flagship is also well-appointed with Mogens Koch bookshelves, Gio Ponti furniture, and a terrace that overlooks Hollywood Road.

Taschen, Shop 01–G02, G/F, Police Headquarters Block 1, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2544 8016

Carft

Carft stocks beautiful and functional objects and furniture sourced from brands all around the world. If you want your home to look like a fashion photoshoot, with a classy and eclectic slant, then this is the store for you. Even looking around their designs and set-ups for inspiration is fun—just try not to turn green with envy at their #homegoals.

Carft, Shop 10 & 13–101, 1/F, Block 10 & 13, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2623 7787

Hexadoor

This shop brings together six local Hong Kong designers each with their unique craftsmanship. Blind by JW designs fashion items and accessories; Absolute Vintage has eyewear; Fabcessories has jewellery design; Ginyu with more fine and delicate jewellery pieces; Playback Concept also does jewellery but with a contemporary take; and People on Board with interesting board games. Support local artists and find something unexpected here.

Hexadoor, Shop 03–102, 1/F, Barrack Block 3, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 6199 6962

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Bonart

Considering how much we love terrariums, it comes as no surprise that terrarium concept store Bonart is one of our favourites here. Offering beautiful and sustainable plants in sealed bottles to take home, Bonart also allows you to create your own miniature “gardenscape”—the only limit is your imagination.

Bonart, Shop 03–204A, 2/F, Barrack Block 3, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2789 2688

Photo credit: @campomarziohk (via Instagram)

Campo Marzio

Italian brand Campo Marzio has been creating personal and business accessories for more than 80 years now, pairing traditional craftsmanship with modern design sensibilities. We love their colourful range of fountain pens, ballpoint pens, notebooks, and accompanying accessories—as stylish as these products look, they are also equally functional, and more affordable than it may seem at first glance.

Campo Marzio, Shop 03–G07, G/F, Barrack Block 3, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central

Photo credit: @tsangkimwa (via Instagram)

Yuen’s Tailor

Even if you’re not in need of bespoke clothing, Yuen’s is still interesting to visit because of the brand’s historical significance. Established in 1974 next to the Shek Kong Barracks, Yuen’s started working with the British armed forces servicemen, becoming acquainted with their traditional military uniforms, and were later officially appointed by the British Ministry of Defence to provide tailoring services. Eventually, they also worked with Highland kilts and remain possibly the one and only true kilt-makers in Hong Kong!

Yuen’s Tailor, Shop 03–207, 2/F, Barrack Block 3, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2815 5388

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Where to eat & drink

The Chinese Library

Inspired by the founder’s vast personal library of Chinese cookbooks, The Chinese Library serves dishes from all across China’s culinary landscape. We particularly like their unlimited weekend dim sum ($328), where a bottomless selection of traditional and modern dim sum, hot dishes, and desserts are served for two hours, with the option of adding on free-flow Champagne as well.

The Chinese Library, 1/F, Police Headquarters Block 1, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2848 3088

Statement

The Western antithesis to The Chinese Library is Statement, which serves both modern and signature British fare done right. The well-appointed space has been reimagined with a dusky blue-grey colour scheme and a lovely terrace balcony overlooking the main courtyard. They do an afternoon tea set ($288) served on Wednesdays to Sundays, consisting of a fantastic selection of savoury sandwiches, sweets and cakes, scones, and fine British teas, with the option to add on Osetra caviar and Champagne as well.

Statement, 1/F, Police Headquarters Block 1, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2848 3000

Aaharn

Awarded one star in the Michelin Guide Hong Kong Macau 2020, Aaharn explores Thai cuisine with a menu found nowhere else in the city. Thai restaurants are usually casual and distinctly grassroots, but Aaharn really elevates the whole experience. Give their tasting menu ($488) a go to try the best of chef David Thompson’s creations.

Aaharn, 1/F, Armoury Block 2, Tai Kwun | (+852) 2703 9111

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Photo credit: @madamefugrandcafe (via Instagram)

Madame Fù

Madame Fù serves curated Cantonese cuisine, recreations of signature dishes from northern Chinese provinces, as well as local dim sum favourites. Our particular favourites are the crispy cod with ginger vinegar glaze ($350) and the conch shell, Japanese scallop & dendrobium flower soup ($158).

Madame Fù, 3/F, Barrack Block 3, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2114 2118

Photo credit: @sushizohongkong (via Instagram)

Sushi Zo

Chef Keizo Seki has brought his Michelin-starred omakase restaurant to Tai Kwun, creating an elaborate range of seasonal dishes that change frequently. With only two sittings per day for a maximum of 12 people, Sushi Zo seats guests at their minimalist sushi bar and offers a personalised 18-dish meal, where ingredients, flavours, temperatures, and textures are all painstakingly harmonised. This chef’s choice menu ($2,500) and is a game-changing culinary experience.

Sushi Zo, Shop 01–LG103, LG/F, Police Headquarters Block 1, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2884 0114

Pazta

Tai Kwun’s newest dining concept Pazta brings Italy’s vibrant gastronomy and atmosphere to the compound. Pretty much everything on their menu looks mouth-watering, but must-orders include the tris di fiori di zucca stuffed zucchini flowers ($95), the cinghiale in umido con polenta scottata braised wild boar with polenta ($290), and the babà al ruhm crema mascarpone e uvetta sponge cake ($100).

Pazta, Shop 03–G08, G/F, Barrack Block 3, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2626 1186

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Bar at Armoury

One of our favourite watering holes, Armoury sits on one end of the Parade Ground courtyard, under the shade of an auspicious mango tree. Their bar is too cosy to accommodate extended seating, but lounging outside on their terrace always makes for a nice time. The Aaharn kitchen team supplies a small menu of modern Thai bar snacks, and the Armoury bartenders also make what is possibly Soho’s best Aperol Spritz.

Bar at Amoury, G/F, Armoury Block 2, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2703 9111

The Dispensary

The Chinese Library and Statement are connected by The Dispensary, a stunning bar occupying the very space where the old police inhabitants devised a bar of their own making. With deep blue and copper accents set against a checkered floor, this is a great place to sip on British- and Chinese-inspired cocktails while people-watching and looking over the Tai Kwun courtyard.

The Dispensary, 1/F, Police Headquarters Block 1, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2848 3000

Dragonfly

The opulent interiors at the Dragonfly make sense when you realise it is Ashley Sutton who did the design—he’s also famously worked on The Iron Fairies and Dear Lily. This boutique bespoke cocktail lounge is decked out in Art Nouveau style with motifs of the winged insect everywhere, and is the most Insta-worthy bar in Tai Kwun.

Dragonfly, G/F, Block 10 & 13, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2777 2633

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Gishiki Lounge

If we’re not holed up at Armoury, you can probably find us curled up on a velvet couch in Gishiki. This speakeasy concept residing behind a curtain in the basement is the sister establishment to Sushi Zo, with tipples just as stunning as the omakase food next door. It may be a badly kept secret by now, but when it’s not too busy, Gishiki retains a charming ambience and their cocktail menu is to die for. Once you’ve tried mixologist Billy Lau’s Japanese food- and rituals-inspired libations, you can’t go back.

Gishiki Lounge, LG/F, Police Headquarters Block 1, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2884 0114

Photo credit: @petitfeilee (via Instagram)

Behind Bars

Did you find yourself fascinated by the old prison cells on display in Tai Kwun? Well, then it’s only right that you end your day in this historical landmark with a drink at Behind Bars. Tucked away in the far end of the compound and housed within a series of interlinked old jail cells, Behind Bars starts serving artisan coffee from late afternoon, and then a series of cocktails when night falls. You can choose to sit out in the prison courtyard or in the cells—the old inmates couldn’t even have dreamed of such treatment!

Behind Bars, Shop 15, G/F, E Hall Block 15, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central

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Catharina Cheung

Senior editor-at-large

Catharina has recently returned to her hometown of Hong Kong after spending her formative years in Singapore and the UK. She enjoys scouring the city for under-the-radar things to do, see, and eat, and is committed to finding the perfect foundation that will withstand Hong Kong’s heat. She is also an aspiring polyglot, a firm advocate for feminist and LGBTQIA+ issues, and a huge lover of animals. You can find her belting out show-tunes in karaoke, or in bookstores adding new tomes to her ever-growing collection.

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