A brief history of Soho, Hong Kong

select 18 hong kong vintage hk

Yesterday I stopped by my friend Nadia’s new shop, Select 18, in Hong Kong’s Soho neighborhood. As the proprietor of a clothing shop, and a bar owner, Nadia’s ventures provide insight into the evolution of Soho. Here’s a little history…

Hong Kong’s Soho neighborhood (which in this case stands for South of Hollywood Road,) is known primarily for two streets: Staunton Street and Elgin Street. The place was a low-rent backwater of printing shops and scap-compacting until the escalator was completed in 1993.

Built on a steep slope, the area slowly began to attract restauranteurs who bet that commuters taking the Mid-Levels escalator home from work might want to stop off to grab a bite to eat. Due to the low rents, individuals (not restaurant groups or big chains) began to open up interesting shops and small, unique restaurant / bars.

Fast forward to 2007, these two blocks and the surrounding alleys are filled with rows of restaurants specializing in foreign cuisines, interspersed with small boutiques. Now that the street is well established, people like Starbucks, 7-11, and Krispy Kreme have descended, delivering convenience, but driving up the rents. With prices so high, the recipe that allowed Soho to have a distinct feel is now being threatened.

In response, Soho pioneers are coping with this by starting to expand to the west, moving towards a neighborhood called Sheung Wan. Some are also pushing northward, into what is now known as Noho.

This brings us back to Nadia. Six years ago, Nadia operated a cool underground bar on Elgin Street that was the best nightspot in Hong Kong. You’d arrive at a non-descript door, press a buzzer, walk down a flight of stairs and enter a totally bohemian world. Musical instruments lined the floor and sooner or later someone would pick one up and a surreal jam-session would ensue. The crowd was made up of Hong Kong’s artistic and creative types. Movie stars, socialites and musicians would converge. It was absolutely never dull. People entranced by the environment, let their guard down and socialized freely, making it a truly special place in what can sometimes be a cold city.

Back to the present again, Nadia currently has a new underground bar / speak-easy on Wellington Street in Noho. Called Sense 99, it’s one of the top alternative nightlife choices in town.

Again mimicking the expansion trend, Select 18, Nadia’s shop, is located on the new western frontier of Soho. Select 18 specializes in vintage clothing and jewelry. As a small unique shop it epitomizes the warm, individual spirit that once set Soho apart from other neighborhoods in Hong Kong.

I couldn’t help but shoot a little video of the fish tank that Nadia and her partner Thomas just installed. (It’s painted to look like an old-fashioned TV!) Keeping goldfish is thought to bring good luck and it’s common to find a fish tank in homes, offices and shops.

The exact street address is 18 Bridges Street. Staunton Street – Soho’s main thoroughfare, turns into Bridges Street after it bisects Aberdeen Street. Select 18 is located directly in back of Centre Stage, the new development that houses club M1NT and The Press Room restaurant on 108 Hollywood Road.

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