It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday.
In Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong Island’s hottest nightlife spot. Restaurants have been hopping for a while and the bars are just beginning to buzz as primped and polished fun-seekers from around the globe meander down neon-lit streets, looking for a good time. Befitting Hong Kong, the overwhelming theme is sleek, modern and trendy, if not a bit clichéd—like every other “trendy” bar street you’ve ever seen. Attractive waitresses tout to passerbys over pounding music, and finding a few takers isn’t hard.
But despite the plethora of flashy nightlife venues in LKF, at this time of night one of the most popular places to get your drink on boasts nothing fancier than industrial fluorescent lighting and coolers full of cold beer. Its name conjures visions of Slurpees, but the hot sellers tonight are alcopops and San Miguel. We are going to get pissed in front of a 7-Eleven, better known in these parts as Club 7 (Eleven).
You know you’re somewhere special when the only affordable place to drink is al fresco, in the street.
At a bar in Hong Kong, a small beer can cost anywhere between HK$40 and HK$80 (US$5-$10), while cocktails and glasses of wine start around HK$70 and can easily soar above HK$110 (US$9-$14 and more). These prices may not be so different from London and New York, but for heavy-drinking budget backpackers like ourselves, they were enough to make our wallets weep.
Thankfully, we’re not alone. Club 7-Eleven is the pre-drinking spot of choice for most fun-loving Hong Kong locals, many of whom can’t afford to—or would just rather not—splurge four figures on a night out.
We arrived early, but after just a short while crowded around our orange rubbish bin (a makeshift table), we met loads of travellers and locals who were getting into the weekend swing with HK$10 (US$1.30) cans of beer and HK$15 (US$1.90) mini bottles of wine. The demographics jumped all over the charts, from young ESL teachers on visa runs to old Indian tourists, and from pretty fashionistas to chefs at a Michelin-starred French brasserie.
The beauty of Hong Kong’s street drinking culture is that it can carry on anywhere—even right up to the doorstep of those posh bars, where we could mingle with the suckers who were paying five times more for their watery drinks. With the freedom of an open container, we could saunter around LKF and enjoy the thumping house or corny 90’s music at whatever venue we chose (though the waitresses got a little hostile when we tried to bring them in!!).
Despite (or perhaps because of) the economical prices of drinks, the next morning we still woke up with mostly empty wallets, and raging hangovers to boot. This is still far preferable to having either no hangover or an empty bank account, which would have been real possibilities had we not stuck with Club 7 (Eleven).