What better way to break stigmas and celebrate differences than by partying the night away at Hong Kong’s infamous Petticoat Lane. This club might be hard to find, but it sure doesn’t lack in attitude — and good times!
Nestled beneath some steps leading down from Wyndham Street, Central’s well-known nightlife belt is Petticoat Lane – one of the few LGBT-friendly bars located in Hong Kong. Founded by Christian Rhomberg, a pioneer of the Lan Kwai Fong scene and founder of the uber-exclusive private member’s club, Kee Club, Petticoat Lane is home to some of the city’s best drag nights and teems not just with LGBT partygoers, but also with open-minded club hoppers that more-often-than-not spill out onto the compact passageway. In less than a year since its opening, Petticoat Lane has grown to become a popular mainstay on the local nightlife scene. Here, we are joined by Justin Van Herwerden, the Operations Manager proudly at the helm of Petticoat Lane, as he tells us more about the club that sashayed its way onto the Hong Kong club scene with its dedication to expressions of fun – and freedom.
To many, Petticoat Lane is the ultimate party playground; a place where people enter as strangers and leave as friends. It’s become the go-to spot for a much-needed after-work drink and has a loyal legion of fans amongst the late-night crowd. Though small, the place surely does not disappoint, especially when it comes to the entertainment. Early revellers can expect music featuring the classic feel-good anthems that top the charts not just today, but over the decades, an impressive selection of your favourite drinks, and some spectacular service. But if that all sounds a bit generic, then simply wait until the clock strikes 12. From the shirtless eye candy to the gag-worthy lip-syncs from some of Hong Kong’s best-loved drag queens, there’s plenty of fun for everyone. It’s really nothing like you’ve ever experienced in Hong Kong, and the person responsible for all this madness is Justin Van Herwerden.
“From a young age, I’d always been fascinated by all the work that goes on behind the scenes at restaurants and bars,” recounts the Dutch native. “As a customer, you only see the final product, like the beautiful plate or the perfectly crafted cocktail sitting right in front of you. But I wanted to be a part of the process that got that beautiful plate to you.” And so began his career in hospitality. Since he came to Hong Kong in 2012, Justin has worked for prestigious companies such as the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Bibo, Le Comptoir and now Petticoat Lane.
For Justin, what makes Petticoat Lane special is, rather surprisingly, the “family-vibe” that he insists permeates the club, and, upon entry, you immediately get what he means. There’s this feeling of community that’s quite unique to Petticoat Lane, and clearly derives from Justin and his team’s concerted efforts in embracing patrons of all sexual preferences. “We like to describe ourselves as the first straight-friendly gay bar. We want Petticoat Lane to be a haven for the LGBT community, but at the same time, we also welcome straight people into our family. So long as you’re fun-loving and ready to mingle, then you’re a part of us,” says Justin.
In March, Justin helped to spearhead the city’s very first and wildly successful Drag Month (it was so successful, in fact, that Petticoat Lane now hosts drag queen performances at midnight on every night they’re open). The month-long event featured daily drag performances from some of Hong Kong’s fiercest queens such as Miss Mid Levels and Gigi Giubilee. On top of being immensely fun, the event also aimed to empower the home-grown drag queen community, by giving them a platform and a voice that, before this, didn’t really exist in the city. “Given the existing misconceptions of drag in Hong Kong society, it’s definitely not easy for us to put up gigs like this, but we endorse it because we see drag as a symbol of the nonconformist. They are redefining current gender norms. It’s not just about dressing up and looking pretty – it’s a form of art that advocates the freedom of self-expression whilst going against cultural standards,” explains Justin.
That’s one of the great things about Petticoat Lane. It’s not just another bar or club. Justin and his team believe strongly in social responsibility. As such, the club partners with a variety of LGBT organisations, such as Queer Straight Alliance and Pink Dot, in an effort to build and nurture a close-knit community that truly celebrates diversity. Despite clear signs of progress with regard to modern society, Justin recognises that there is still a discernible barrier that exists between mainstream society and the LGBT community. “Thanks to pop culture, especially music, movies and TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, gay culture is slowly becoming much more socially accepted. But for many years, gay bars in Hong Kong were just not a safe place to be,” Justin remarks. Even today, there is still a long way to go with regards to ending the stigmatisation of LGBT groups in the city.” For this reason, Justin hopes that Petticoat Lane can play an instrumental role in bridging the divide between the LGBT and the non-LGBT community.
So whether you’re gay or straight, black or white, or simply looking for a good time, why not take a chance on what is fast becoming a staple on the Hong Kong nightlife scene. We’d recommend heading on down for one of their nightly drag takeovers, or for their popular weekly pride celebration WednesGay for one hour free-flow Absolut Vodka (you’re welcome). As Justin reiterates, “Petticoat Lane is a place where you can party without labels, without judgment. It is more than just a gay club. It is put together by the community, for the community. As a new addition to the local clubbing scene, it was never our idea to take, but to add.”
B/F 57-59 Wyndham St, Central