“Community” is a word that comes up often in conversations with south-side business owners, and indeed, there’s no doubt that something is collectively taking shape. Just next door to Airspace is Feast Projects, another gallery and event venue with a focus on contemporary, mixed-media works. Vagani and Bardallini talk about getting morning pastries from the bakery downstairs and high-quality Greek olive oil from a distributor on another floor. Dugar, meanwhile, found a photographer in his building who’s helped him with Young Master’s promotional material. “A lot of people here seem to share a similar mindset,” the brewer says.
At the Art Statements gallery in nearby Wong Chuk Hang, watched over by a couple of hyper-Technicolor creations by Japanese painter and animator Yoshitaka Amano, owner Dominique Perregaux tells me the number of galleries in the area has shot up from five to over 20 in the last few years as people flee the high rents and tighter confines of Central and SoHo. Perregaux should know; he’s the chairman of the South Island Cultural District (SICD), an alliance of galleries and artists that works to promote the area through tours and special events such as an annual Art Night, where working studios open their doors to visitors, and venues like Airspace throw bashes that stretch into the early hours. In some respects the SICD has its work cut out for it; in addition to the perceived distance from Central, Wong Chuk Hang, as Perregaux notes, “looks kind of hostile.” Superficially it is a canyon of roaring traffic flanked by mammoth, aging warehouses, with no indications at street level of the creativity contained within. Destinations are spaced out, and going from one to the next can require a long walk or even a cab ride. Nonetheless, more people are visiting. “We have reached a critical mass in terms of the number of galleries in the neighborhood, so it’s really catching on,” he says.
With the galleries have come all sorts of restaurants and private kitchens, ranging from the Butcher’s Club, renowned for its belt-busting multicourse feasts that center on choice cuts of dry-aged beef, to the far less carnivorous Mum, which offers vegetarian lunches preceded by yoga sessions. Retailers, too, are arriving in force; Aberdeen is now home to Editus, a 650-square-meter showroom devoted entirely to men’s fashion and lifestyle goods, while posher Repulse Bay has The Pulse, a trendy new beachside mall stacked with high-end homeware shops, toy stores, and outlets of Hong Kong’s popular Classified café chain and liquid-nitrogen ice cream “laboratory” Lab Made. There’s even appropriately edgy accommodation thanks to last summer’s opening of Ovolo Southside, a warehouse-turned-hotel in Wong Chuk Hang that claims to be the city’s first such conversion. Its 162 guest rooms are dominated by raw concrete surfaces and exposed pipes, while a former parking and loading area has been repurposed as an event space that’s hosted everything from an exhibition of bondage-themed photography to American jazz great Roy Ayers.
With Ovolo and The Pulse, the south side has also attained something approaching nightlife. The former’s rooftop is given over to the spectacular Above bar, which offers specialty cocktails and vertigo-inducing views. Maximal Concepts, the creative force behind such hot spots as Central’s salon-like whisky bar Stockton, took advantage of The Pulse’s beachfront location for its latest venture, Limewood. “Everyone said we were crazy to go to the south side,” says Maximal’s managing director, Malcolm Wood. “But we felt it was time to create a real beach restaurant and bar for Hong Kong.” Limewood’s bright, breezy decor and tropics-inspired menu and cocktail list—think toasted-coconut piña coladas, margaritas, and grilled seafood garnished with touches of Asian citrus and spice—make it feel like a genuine escape.
The looming question is whether the area will eventually become a victim of its emerging success—not least because the ever-industrious MTR Corporation will extend train services to the area late next year. As is typical for Hong Kong, news of the metro line’s arrival has sparked a real estate frenzy. According to some local media reports, average prices for industrial space in Wong Chuk Hang have jumped around 650 percent over the past six years, frothy even by local standards. Developers are said to be eyeing old industrial properties that can be snatched up and converted to commercial use.