Back to the List of Bars

CHINA FLEET CLUB -- WAN CHAI, HONG KONG

Them godless, heathen, Chinese commie bastards pulled the plug on this great bistro when the Brits finally retracted their last tentacles from the Far East. When the port of Hong Kong was an exotic British Crown Colony (BCC) rather than a bland Special Administrative Region (SAR), the China Fleet Club was a stately dockside watering hole that catered to seafarers under any and all flags. The joint combined sensual Asian sleaze a la The World of Suzie Wong -- filmed, by the way, right there in the Wan Chai District -- with the rattan ceiling fan/gin and tonic stuffiness of an outpost of The Empire. It was a landmark on the shore of Causeway Bay and a favorite gathering place for British and American sailors and Marines since the days of the Yangtze River patrols.

An old-line Navy cook aboard a 7th Fleet gator told me about wild times in The China Fleet Club while I was a Gunnery Sergeant on a ready landing force float in the Western Pacific. He was the kind of sailor -- a real Old China Hand -- that had a pig tattooed one foot and a chicken on the other as Chinese good luck symbols, so his stories rang true. They also rang up great images in my imagination and I caught the first ferry smoking out of Kowloon as soon as we dropped the hook in Hong Kong Harbor. It was a horse race to get there and find a space at the polished bar - which stretched some forty feet along one wall and featured six starched barmen - because an entire sea-borne task force was in port alongside my ship. Competing for space at the club were sailors and Marines from America, England, Australia, New Zealand and Canada who had been at sea for weeks flexing allied muscle around the rim of the Pacific.

The Yanks were first through the forward hatch and quickly started trying to suck the beer supply dry before the Brits, Kiwis, Aussies and Canucks arrived. None of that plebian shit for me, however; I was sucking gin and tonic like a Hoover vacuum cleaner. When a detachment of Royal Marines landed, I even learned to drink pink gin, composed of Bombardier Gin and Angostora Bitters and poured over ice in The China Fleet Club. Things remained relatively sedate until a mob of Aussie sailors off the carrier HMAS Melbourne arrived and began loudly demanding instant gratification from the overworked barkeeps. A loud altercation broke out at the other end of the bar and rapidly deteriorated into an international slugfest. As the place was mobbed, the fighting spread rapidly; first along nationalistic lines and then crossing all borders to become World War III. Ducking and dodging flying fists and feet, I noted one of the barmen on the phone. You didn't need to be a Mandarin linguist to understand he was screaming for the notoriously vicious flying squad of the Hong Kong Police. It was time to make a retrograde movement or wind up in the Wan Chai slammer.

Halfway to the hatch, I found my right leg rooted to the deck and a jolt of pain blasted right through the gin fog. Apparently in my haste to depart, I'd stepped on the hand of a semi-conscious Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer who responded to the affront by biting me on the calf. He seemed to be suffering from an adrenalin-fueled case of lockjaw and I couldn't shake the little shit off no matter what I tried. Sirens were howling and brakes were screeching outside the China Fleet Club when I grabbed a beer bottle and fetched that Chief a clout across his jib-sheets. That did the trick and I just managed to escape out the rear exit as the flying squad bombed through the entrance with whistles screaming and truncheons flailing.

Later visits were more peaceful. We didn't exactly join hands and sing Kumbaya, but we did manage to get along and enjoy The China Fleet Club for the remainder of our time in port at Hong Kong. It's all sadly a thing of the past. Commies have zero sense of humor and very little sense of any history but their own.



Back to the List of Bars