Legendary Wan Chai bar Carnegie’s to close this month, after 23 years in business

Photo: Howard Mckay via Facebook

UPDATE: Carnegie’s has temporarily extended its lease while considering proposals from potential investors.

Carnegie’s, the rock ‘n’ roll Lockhart Road institution famed for its cheap drinks, live music, and bar-top dancing, is set to close its doors for the last time at the end of the month due to a looming rent hike, Coconuts Hong Kong has learned.

On Wednesday evening, major shareholder Howard Mckay announced the closure on his Facebook page, saying that the long-running Wan Chai bar would cease operations unless a new buyer could be found in the coming weeks.

Because the first stage of grief is denial however, we went to the bar seeking answers, hoping to be proven wrong. General Manager Duncan Smith unfortunately confirmed the news to Coconuts Hong Kong, saying the decision had been a sudden one.

“It was only decided on Tuesday (June 13). Our rent just went up and the shareholders came into town, looked at the books, and said the business wasn’t viable anymore.”

Forget Victoria Peak or the harborfront, this is probably the most popular photo backdrop in Hong Kong. Everyone knows you haven’t partied in Hong Kong until you’ve danced on top of the bar at Carnegie’s. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

Smith said profits had been dwindling for a while, pinpointing late 2014 as a turning point, when the mass Umbrella Movement rallies and gruesome, high-profile murder of two Wan Chai sex workers took place. “After Occupy Central and the Rurik Jutting case, people just stopped coming. All of [the bars in] Wan Chai were affected.”

Since then, Smith said the business never fully recovered. While Carnegie’s had once been the best place to find the city’s entire exchange student population on any given weeknight, the manager says university students have stopped frequenting the bar in recent years.

“Thing is, more and more new bars have started popping up […] around here and Sheung Wan,” he said. “Clients are spreading out and we can’t compete. This place has barely changed since it opened. People say we should just refit and update things, but how can we re-haul the place when there are no customers?”

General Manager Duncan Smith. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

While Mckay confirmed on Facebook that he was talking to some potential buyers, Smith says the bar will most likely close on June 30th unless something changes fast. “I’ll know more by next week, but if the closure really does go forward, then we’ll have a big blowout to celebrate.” He confirmed to Coconuts Hong Kong that there are no plans to relocate.

If a new owner was to buy the business, they would have the option of operating under the brand name for four months. While beloved Wan Chai watering hole Joe Bananas was resurrected by its new owner just three months after going under in 2014, Smith is trying not to raise his hopes too much.

“That’d be great, but they were lucky. Originally, the new owner only got the space and stock. After they saw the response to [Joe Bananas’ closure], they decided to keep the name and continue running it,” he said.

As it stands, Carnegie’s may just inspire a similar outpouring from the public. At the time of writing, Mckay’s Facebook post has been shared hundreds of times and Smith says he’s received dozens of messages from devastated friends and regulars, most of whom have spoken of the bar’s personal significance to them.

“I’ve always been told that you haven’t really been to Hong Kong unless you’ve been to Carnegie’s,” Smith said.

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