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Uniquely HK

History Matters

A Palate for The Peak

The Peak Hotel. Ca. 1920. Courtesy of Richard Garrett.

Initially eating out on The Peak was not easy; there were no restaurants! How that changed is a story of progress interrupted by the Second World War.

The first restaurant was that in the old Peak Hotel, which had been built next to the Peak Tram Terminus. The hotel was a great success and was expanded over the years. However, with the advent of the motor car in the 1930s it lost some of its allure. It was damaged by fire in 1938 and later it and the surrounding buildings suffered from bomb damage as well as neglect. After the war it was not worth restoring and the site was cleared.

With the closure of the hotel there were again no restaurants on The Peak, but in 1946 an application was made to convert the shelter for sedan chair coolies into a cafeteria and restaurant. This shelter was just in front of the hotel site on the opposite side of the road. It had become redundant as sedan chairs were no longer an essential part of Peak transport; however, its structure was robust and it was a relatively easy way to establish a business.

It was proposed to establish “a first-class Cafeteria on the Peak, to cater for visitors and Peak residents for the supply of refreshment and light meals in pleasant surroundings, under European management”. Negotiations with the applicant broke down, but in November 1947 permission was given to Mr Louis M Leong to occupy the land for the purpose of serving light refreshments. The original term of the permit was only until the 31st March 1948 but it was extended and the Peak Café stayed in operation for many years.

A competitor was in the offing when in the early 1970s a new grand structure was developed over the Peak Tram Terminus. The Peak Tower was opened on the 29th August 1972 (construction had started in 1971). The Asia Supermarket had a branch there and The Tower Restaurant was situated on the top deck, while the Peak Coffee Shop was located on the floor below. Both the upper floors were supported by two columns allowing a clear space between the upper and lower parts of the tower; the lower part housing the Tram Terminus. The novel design made the building a landmark that could be seen from Kowloon.

In 1973 with the new restaurants in the Peak Tower it looked as though the Café might be declared redundant. What must have been one of the first petitions to preserve a heritage building in Hong Kong was organised to save it. This was successful and a new lease was put up for tender and this led to a new owner. They kept the name Peak Café but extended and upgraded the facilities to make a top class restaurant. In 2001 the lease was again retendered and another owner took over but they had to change the name to The Peak Lookout and it still operates today. Inside the exposed roof beams show something of the original structure which was in 1981 declared a Grade II Historic Building by the Antiquities and Monuments Office.

In 1993, the Peak Tower underwent a HK$500 million redevelopment resulting in a new retail and entertainment complex, designed by renowned British architect Terry Farrell. The original design feature of raising the structure on columns was retained, but the upper section has a wok shape, giving rise to its nickname. It was officially opened to the public in May 1997 with a number of top attractions, including Ripley's Odditorium and Mini Motion Theatre.

 It went through a further transformation that began in March 2005. That transformed the Peak Tower into a leisure destination offering great variety of dining, specialty shopping and interactive entertainments including a Madame Tussauds waxwork show. There is also a Post Office on the lower level. The Peak Tram terminus is now part of the complex. The old winding house has gone but parts of the mechanism can be seen at the small Peak Tram Museum located at the lower terminus on Garden Road.

The site of the Peak Hotel had been used as a car park and transport terminus with cars, taxis, buses and minibuses all competing for space. Finally it was decided to redevelop it and another shopping complex rose in its place. Known as the Peak Galleria it was completed in 1994 and houses a number of retail outlets and restaurants as well as a kindergarten. The shops and restaurants, whilst relying on the tourist trade, are also a convenience for the residents. The transport terminus was sited at ground level with a car park in the basements.

The area between the Peak Tower and the Peak Galleria was landscaped and the cafes around the edge have outside tables to give a Mediterranean feel. There is also an old Peak Tram carriage fitted out as an information centre. For the more energetic, the country walks provide a refreshing getaway from Hong Kong’s normal hustle and bustle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Peak Café. Ca. 1950.

 

The original Peak Tower. Ca. 1980. Courtesy of Richard Garrett.

 

The Peak Lookout. Courtesy of Richard Garrett.

 

The new Peak Tower. Courtesy of Richard Garrett. 

 

Richard Garrett has lived in Hong Kong for more than forty years and is the author of numerous articles on people and places in Hong Kong, Macau and China. See www.richardjgarrett.com

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