oldest pub in hk?

Submitted by ewanross on Wed, 10/21/2015 - 20:05

Dear all - first time from a long time fan of the page!

I'm wondering if anyone can answer the question of what is the oldest pub in Hong Kong? The best guess I had was jimmys or Ned kellys but I can't find a difinitive answer anywhere. Maybe captains bar in the MO?

Hi Ewan,

There are a couple of different ways to answer the question - if it's the company that's been in business longest, Jimmy's must be a contender. Here's an ad of theirs from 1933:

1933 Jimmy's Kitchen Advertisement
1933 Jimmy's Kitchen Advertisement, by moddsey

But they've been at several locations over the years. So if you're looking for the bar that's been at the same location for the longest time, I'd guess the hotel bars have the best chance of staying put. Any ideas how long the Captains Bar has been there?

Regards, David

The link in Tom's post above claims that the Mariner's Rest Bar in Hullett House, “…supposedly the oldest pub in Hong Kong...was once the pub for officers and visiting seamen as early as 1884 when the building served as the Marine Police Headquarters”.

The claim is questionable. Firstly, by the 1980’s and I suspect for much of its history, the Mariner’s Rest wasn’t a pub. "Pub" is short for "public house", a premises at which the general public can buy and consume alcohol. As the original Mariner's Rest was within a Police Station, I doubt it was open to the general public. By 1982, when I first visited it, the Mariner’s Rest was the Marine Police Officer's Mess. As such, if my memory serves me correctly and it operated in the same way as other Police Messes, it was only open to members and their guests. Members would have been serving Marine Police Officers and a few invited others. I don’t know when this operating model for Police Messes originated, but suspect it dates from the early days of colonial policing when many Officers resided in the Mess. Some Police Messes had more non-Police members than others. For instance, the Airport Police Station at Kai Tak had many non-Police members who worked at the airport. The old Marine Police Mess may likewise have had a significant number of non-Police members but I doubt it was ever open to the general public.

By the early 1980’s the old Marine Police HQ building was occupied not only by Marine Police HQ, but also by Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station, with the rooms occupied by todays Mariner's Rest being the Report Room and Cells of Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station. The Mariner's Rest was on an upper floor at the front of the building if I remember correctly.

Later in the '80's Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station moved to its present site at the junction of Nathan and Austin Roads, and later still Marine Police HQ relocated to Sai Wan Ho. No doubt there's an Officers Mess in the present Marine Police HQ and, knowing their love of tradition, I'd be surprised if the Mariners didn't name their new Mess, “The Mariner's Rest”. If so, could there now be two Mariner's Rest's in Hong Kong? 

To summarize, todays Mariner's Rest in Hullett House may well be able to claim to be Hong Kong’s oldest bar operating under the same name within the same building as the original. However, it has moved locations within the building and wasn’t strictly a pub whilst being a Police Mess. Furthermore, it may not have operated continually, the war years and years of redevelopment being possible periods when it was closed.

Am I understanding this topic all wrong?  Won't the oldest pub be one which operated way back in the 19th century within one of the hotels?  Thinking about it this way most probably this 'oldest pub' is not with us today, because many hotels and guesthouses which housed foreign guests and likely contained 'pubs' back in the 19th century do not operate anymore.

I do not have an answer to the question if interpreted this way, but I am inclined to think that John Olson's liquor licence for the National Tavern in 1860 might be a contender.  It is unfortunate that Sean has taken down his website with the complete story of John Olson, but from what I remember when reading it, it seemed that even John Olson was not the first holder of the licence for this place, let alone other competing businesses which would contain places that sold liquor and would perhaps qualify as a 'pub' as we know it.



I can’t answer what the oldest existing pub in Hong Kong is, but have a feeling that this question has come up before. Patricia Lim’s book, Forgotten Souls, gives the names of some of the early Hong Kong pubs and their keepers. Patricia cites Eliza Mulholland, wife of Thomas Mulholland who opened the Wellington Inn in the Circular Building in 1846; the Fortune of War tavern, kept by George B. Jones who died in 1848; Mr & Mrs Suaicar of the Pilot Boat Tavern who held a ball for fellow publicans in 1851; John Rice, an ex-mariner who ran the Empire Tavern in the 1850s and 1860s; James Maclehose who ran the Commercial Inn and died in 1852; and James Lindow who kept the National Inn and died in 1855. So Breskvar you’re right that the National Inn (also known as the National Tavern and National Hotel) seems to have been going strong before John Olson, Sean Olson’s and also my great-grandfather, took over the license for it in 1866 from A. da Cruz. There seem to be many other contenders for the title of earliiest Hong Kong pub, however.


Definitely not a public house, but until November 1996, ‘The Mariners’ Rest’ could claim to be one of the oldest - if not the oldest - drinking establishments in Kowloon, quite possibly HK too.


This claim originated in the downstairs room which, coincidentally, currently acts as the hotel bar. When the Water Police HQ opened in 1884 this room was the ‘Sergeants’ Mess’, i.e. the dining room and bar of the European officers who lived in the building. Its hospitality was renowned well beyond the shores of HK - members of the Royal Navy and Chinese Maritime Customs along with seafarers from the ships that plied the China coast were often invited in to eat and drink - as proof I have a photograph of a New Year’s Eve dinner in that room from 1915 given to me by the grandson of a CMC man.


In 1920 the building was enlarged considerably - even a third storey added - and the mess moved to the 1/F on the eastern side, where it became known as the ‘Water Police Canteen’. In 1920 the old mess - indeed whole side of the building - was given over to land police, it became TST Police Station, until the current station was opened in 1983.


As trade increased, the name of the Marine Police Canteen spread even further; for as well as fellow officers from land units, staff - many of whom were residents - continued to host seafarers and travellers from around the globe. It became the custom for these visitors to present numerous plants and shrubs from tropical lands to the fine gardens that once existed to the building’s front.


In 1948 the title of the Water Police was changed to Marine Police and the ‘Canteen’ changed its name to the ‘Marine Police Canteen'. Officers continued to reside in the building until well into the 1960s, even accommodating married fellows and their families as the building had done in its early days. In 1975 a further renaming occurred, and the institution became the ‘Marine Police Officers’ Mess’ (the Mariners’ Rest being developed its nickname), and it remaining a very vibrant and convivial hostelry until marine police marched out after 112 years on 26th November 1996.


The ‘Mariners Rest’ still exists as a mess at the current Marine HQ in Sai Wan Ho, HKI. However, as of autumn 2009 the name and associated folklore was shared with the restaurant group upon their occupation of the building and their naming of their bar the ‘Mariner’s Rest’. 

My great grandfather, Jons Jakobsson aka John Olson, had a liquor licence for the National Tavern in 1869. However Wilhelm Petersen - my great grandfather's executor - had a licence for the German Tavern in 1859. Petersen died in 1896 still in the liqour trade. He was it seems the leading publican of his time. Then there was a Jesse Cooke.  If anybody is seriously interested in the first boozing establishment a look at the Carl Smith Archive might be a good place to start.

I would have thought that the oldest pub is likely to have been opened sometime in the  1840s or early 1850s. Seamen would certainly not have been drinking lemonade on their furloughs when their ships stopped at HK. 

Dear all, 

Thanks so much for the replies so far, facinating to hear of all the pubs past + present!

I got a note from the MO to confirm that both the Captain's Bar and The Chinnery have been around since the MO opened in 1963 which I think must make them the oldest pubs/bars in the same location.

Without realising it, I think my original post was asking about 3 different questions!

1) The oldest pub in Hong Kong that is still open in the same location (Captain's Bar - 1963 I think is the oldest so far as I think Jimmy's has moved more recently?)

2) The oldest pub n Hong Kong that is still open (mariner's rest seems questionable based on the earlier posts so Jimmy's would win that one at the moment)

3) The oldest record of a pub in Hong Kong (Wellington Inn in the Circular Building in 1846?)


I feel we need to distinguish, here, between bars or pubs which any member of the public could saunter into - and those  'drinking establishments' which require membership.

I am not sure that a civilian, for example, could buy a drink in the Marine Police Mess in days gone by?

I know the Ladies Recreation Club, The Hong Kong Club and the Hong Kong Football Club are long established watering holes, and although they do require membership - these pre-date the Mandarin Oriental bar(s)?

It would be hard to say whether the location of the bars have changed much geographically, but they must be fairly close to where they were originally placed? Of course the Hong Kong Cricket Club bar - my father's home from home - has moved some distance from it's Central location!



Hmmmm........the Captain's Bar is a hotel bar.........doesn't really count as a 'pub' does it?


Nor does any club or establishement that is not open to the public at large; and let's be honest Jimmy's Kitchen has been a restaurant for at least 33% of its existence really.


Pubs? Well, the 'Old China Hand' must be up there (from 1976 - although closed now I believe), similarly the 'Bobby London' in Tai Po (still there I think). The 'Railway' in Tai Wai might still be going too.


Howabout 'Schnurrbart's' and 'Al's Diner' in Lan Kwai Fong - both easily over 25yrs old.

To return to ewanross’s Category 3 of the “oldest record” of a Hong Kong pub. I think the Wellington Inn was probably a latecomer to a crowded field by 1846. Patricia Lim describes early Hong Kong as a male-dominated society “where the tavern and the brothel flourished”. She cites the Blue Books of 1845 which already record twenty-six brothels. Taverns surely kept pace with them. I’m not sure when taverns earned the designation of “pubs”. Lim writes of “drinking holes” where soldiers could be rendered tipsy in the quickest and cheapest way, which meant arrack in the European taverns or shamshoo in the Chinese quarter. Given the frequent press reports of alcohol-fuelled brawls, I’m sure someone will come up with the oldest record of a Hong Kong pub. I believe the Friend of China  kicked off in 1842 and before that the Canton Press was reporting on early Hong Kong from Macao with a “steady stream of ridicule” in the words of Harold Ingrams's book, Hong Kong.


I can confirm that the Old China Hand has closed.

From personal memory both Ned Kelly's in TST and Smugglers Inn, Stanley were open as early as 1982 and are still operating in their same premises today.

Schnurbarts first bar opened in Hart Avenue,TST in about 1983/4. Their Lan Kwai Fong bar came later. Als Dinner in Lan Kwai Fong was later still I think.

Haha - I protest!


I actually saw the article myself in the magazine at the weekend and came back to check on this thread to see how similar it is.


I definitely don't work for HK Mag!

I take it back :)
They're obviously lacking inspiration and have come to the best place to find some.
You're obviously an inspirational person, Ewan.

BTW - found this a few days ago from the Canton Register - vol. 15 no. 13 for 29th March 1842


".............The popular public house for seamen in Hong Kong is 'Britain’s Boast'. The high-class place in town for the ships’ officers, civil servants and merchants is the 'Victoria Tavern' (named in emulation of the prestigious London Tavern) The Hong Kong population now is believed to be between 15,000 - 18,000........"


Though there are also numerous references to what can only be called 'shabeens', run by locals for the sale of 'sam shoo' (rice wine).


Any earlier references to a pub in HK?