Wan Chai: Sex, Dives and Bar Cards From 1970s Hong Kong

“I told you I would just give you trouble” - Suzie Wong

 

Wan Chai, on the northern shore of Hong Kong Island, has long been synonymous with “yum-yum” prostitutes and vice. Wan Chai became legendary for its exotic night life, especially for the US servicemen resting there during the Vietnam War. It has been the landing point for visiting US Navy sailors for decades. Collector m20wc51 (that’s his Flickr name) was there in the early 1970s. He supplies the photos, the comments and the captions to this Flashbak. And because he never throws anything away, we see the bar cards and other ephemera from the era.

 

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960s

 

“When I left this place to head home, I didn’t have even a dime left to pay the bus at the Los Angeles Airport – I had to beg one from another passenger. One of the girls from a bar I had frequented came to the airport to see me leave,and actually paid for the taxi there! (of course, I had certainly paid her plenty,too). Thinking about this trip 40 years later, if I had a “re-do”, I would have skipped Japan altogether, and gone straight here to Hong Kong. The days I spent here are still vivid memories-the other places I went have faded in my memory such that I can barely recall them.

 

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960 cards

 

The Luk Kwok Hotel (made famous by "The World of Suzie Wong") in July,1972

The Luk Kwok Hotel (made famous by “The World of Suzie Wong”) in July,1972

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960s

 

Note all the tailors in these Wanchai photos. Getting “Hong Kong suits” was a big deal with GIs then. I met lots of guys down there spending big money on getting all sorts of custom-tailored suits and other clothes. Stereo equipment was also big-guys would buy the stuff here,and have it shipped home.

 

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960 cards

 

If I had only known at the time that I was photographing a place and time that would soon be gone forever, I would have shot rolls and rolls of film there to document it. But, of course, I had no idea. I really just shot these to show my friends “How I spent my summer vacation”. There are only a handful of photos of Wanchai from this time period here on Flickr, but then, all the guys who took photos down there are at least as old as me, and many don’t do much with computers. So, the photos they took sit in dusty old albums, or in boxes of slides in a drawer somewhere. These weren’t the kind of photos you took home to show Mom and Dad, either. My parents never saw these photos of mine when I got back from HK.

 

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960s

This was a badly damaged negative from the very end of the roll of film. A careless jackass of a developer stapled something right over what would have been a nice photo of Wanchai,back in 1972. Anyway,it still has plenty of old period detail to be seen.When I took the photo, it was just getting dark,and the bar lights were just coming on. I had either just come out of, or was just going into the San Francisco

 

 

 

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960

Here is what I consider a rare glimpse at the real “World of Suzie Wong”. Richard Mason, the Author of that book, spent four months in Hong Kong in 1956 “researching” the book, which was published in 1957. He stayed at the old Luk Kwok Hotel, which was then on Gloucester Road, between Fenwick and Luard. As near as I can tell, comparing with other, later photos, this is the northeast corner of Lockhart and Luard Roads-just a short walk away from the Luk Kwok. He had said that all his characters, Suzie included, were composites of women he met in Wanchai, and I have to believe he spent some time in this bar. In July 1958, when this photo was taken, his book had spent 29 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller list (falling off in March), but the movie of the same name was still almost two years away. Could that woman in the Qipao be Gwenny or Minnie crossing Lockhart Road there?
Note the “In Bounds” painted on the column, telling Military Sailors that they were permitted to enter.

Lockhart Road, circa 1970. I think this is perhaps the very best photo of Wanchai in the "American R&R" period that I am aware of (other than one or two that I took-LOL). The "Candlelight" bar was at 42-50 Lockhart Road, so this photographer must have been standing in front of the "Pussycat" bar (34-38 Lockhart)

Lockhart Road, circa 1970. I think this is perhaps the very best photo of Wanchai in the “American R&R” period that I am aware of (other than one or two that I took-LOL).
The “Candlelight” bar was at 42-50 Lockhart Road, so this photographer must have been standing in front of the “Pussycat” bar (34-38 Lockhart)

 

Suzy Wong Bar, Wanchai, 1967

Suzy Wong Bar, Wanchai, 1967

 

 

Luard Road, 1970

Luard Road, 1970

My beautiful picture

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960s

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960 cards

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960 cards

Luard Road, April 1969 Look at all the greenery atop the Ocean Bar building.

Luard Road, April 1969
Look at all the greenery atop the Ocean Bar building.

Bunny Club, Wanchai, 1967

Bunny Club, Wanchai, 1967

 

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960 cards

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960 cards

Sailors in Wanchai,1961 They would seem to be on Hennessy Road. That distinctive building on the right should pinpoint the location. Anyone recognize it? My 1960 guide book states that the Kow Hoo Shoe Co. was at 19-21 Hennessy Road. The sign for the 'Union Bar' can be seen. It was at 23 Hennessy Road.

Sailors in Wanchai,1961
They would seem to be on Hennessy Road. That distinctive building on the right should pinpoint the location. Anyone recognize it?
My 1960 guide book states that the Kow Hoo Shoe Co. was at 19-21 Hennessy Road.
The sign for the ‘Union Bar’ can be seen. It was at 23 Hennessy Road.

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960

zippowanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960 cards

wanchai bars hong kong 1970s1960 cards

To keep your smokes dry

83 Lockhart Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong. July 1972.

83 Lockhart Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong. July 1972.