Rock On! 10 Best Live Music Venues in Hong Kong

Live music in Hong Kong falls into four main categories.

At the top of the program are the major venues, seating hundreds and the natural port of call for international orchestras, pop stars and the like, whose very name is enough to ensure seats sell out in a trice.

Secondly are the bars and restaurants – such as Grappa's Cellar in Central – which stage live music by professionals, be it jazz, easy listening or indeed anything which will accompany patrons' drinking and dining.

Thirdly are the more informal places, usually a pub, which attract enthusiastic amateurs who like to play a particular brand of music and whose friends usually flock to give them some support. Perhaps The Wanch, in Wan Chai, is the prime example.

Lastly – and least of all – are alternative venues, well out of town, which stage alternative music for up and coming bands and performers.

Hong Kong is more famed for its business acumen than its cultural offerings, but a healthy live music scene is a sure sign that there is another side to the city rather than simply making money. And when it comes to the amateur performers, it's amazing how many of them are holding down a regular job wearing a suit from nine to five.


Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Nobody has ever accused the Cultural Centre of being architecturally beautiful – in fact it's nicknamed The Ski Slope. But inside the acoustics and other details are all top-notch, making this a performance mecca. Built on the site of the former main railway station – the clock tower next to the center is the only reminder – it houses a 2,000 seat concert hall, and a grand theater that can seat nearly as many. There is also a studio theater, and a dozen rehearsal rooms. Beneath the centre a marriage registry celebrates weddings throughout the week, which is why so many couples can be seen posing in their finery on the center's premises.

Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts

The Academy for Performing Arts – almost always known as APA – is a typical Hong Kong success story. Squeezed onto a triangular site near the harbor in Wan Chai, it sits above the MTR railway – so the architect had to cushion it on a bed of rubber to prevent rumbling trains from disturbing performances. Thus are the arts slotted into a mercantile metropolis. This is where Hong Kong's best and brightest young artists nurture their talent, and there are a number of performance venues, including the Lyric Theatre which can seat nearly 1,200, a Drama Theatre, a Concert Hall, a Recital Hall, and a regular Theatre.

Grappa's Cellar
Photo courtesy of Grappa's Cellar

Grappa's Cellar bills itself as The Home of Live Entertainment in Hong Kong, with jazz, rock and comedy acts visiting regularly from around the world to perform. Some big names that have performed here include Georgie Fame, Lee Ritenour, José González, Imogen Heap, OK Go, The Damned, British Sea Power and The Pub Landlord. As well as great music, there's also great food. All sauces, pasta, sausages and desserts are produced exclusively in Grappa's own kitchen using only natural ingredients, including the best imported semolina flour, extra virgin olive oil and a variety of the world's finest natural cheeses from Italy and the USA.

Photo courtesy of AsiaWorld-Expo

AsiaWorld-Expo is the biggest purpose-built indoor seated entertainment arena in Hong Kong with a maximum capacity of 14,000. This state-of-the-art complex, opened in December 2005, is located at the centre of an extensive and efficient air, land and marine transport network connecting Hong Kong with China's Pearl River Delta and the world's business capitals. So no wonder that when top acts play Hong Kong, they take the stage here. The centre has staged concerts by acts such as Oasis, Eric Clapton, Il Divo, Coldplay, Westlife, Christina Aguilera, Plácido Domingo, Ayumi Hamasaki, Kylie Minogue, Deep Purple, Green Day, Girls' Generation, L'Arc en Ciel, Stone Roses, Lady Gaga and Super Junior.

Hong Kong Coliseum
Photo courtesy of HK Coliseum

Since its official opening on 27 April 1983, the Hong Kong Coliseum has established itself as one of the most popular multipurpose indoor stadium in Hong Kong for international spectacular entertainment programs and pop concerts. Shaped like an inverted pyramid, the Coliseum is one of the most eye-catching landmarks on the waterfront of Hong Kong. The imposing design was constructed from rooftop downwards which creates a maximum column-free space out of the 1 600 sq.m arena, providing an unobstructed view of the arena for over 12 500 audience. Adjacent to Hung Hom station, the venue is easily accessible by trains and other public transport. Since its opening, the popular Coliseum has played host to thousands of local and international conferences, performances and events.

Peel Fresco
Photo courtesy of Peel Fresco

SoHo is one of those areas in Hong Kong which have just grown up all by themselves. A few years ago it was simply dull backstreets – but with the construction of the outdoor escalator numerous bars and trendy boutiques have sprung up to take advantage of the passing traffic. Peel Fresco is typical of the breed, and showcases a great many top-notch live music acts – both local and international. The week normally pans out like this: open jam on Tuesday, when anyone is free to try their hand; solid jazz on Thursday; on Saturday – jazz, blues, reggae, soul.

Ned Kelly's Last Stand

A traditional jazz band takes the stage nightly at Ned Kelly's, which also offers a lively ambiance and a good selection of classic pub food. The club has happy hour specials and an Australian menu that showcases culinary favorites like meat pie and mashed potatoes with onion gravy. The noise levels are pretty high, but this is all part of the fun at Ned Kelly's. It's a great favorite with long-term Hong Kong residents, and many regular visitors make this a definite must every time they come to Hong Kong. A good 30 years since it first opened, this is a Hong Kong classic.

Fringe Club
Photo courtesy of HKTB

Upscale avant-garde entertainment is the focus at the Fringe Club. The club's award-winning renovation of a former dairy warehouse have left it with two theaters, two art galleries, a photography gallery, rehearsal space and studios, a fine restaurant and two bars, one of which is an amazing rooftop garden bar. This is where creative, artsy types sip cocktails and munch on tapas; the club itself hosts a variety of performances each week, from bands to theater to book readings. The bars do not have a cover charge. Performance ticket prices vary. The red-brick building is home to the annual Fringe Festival and the base of Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents' Club.

Wan Chai

Having been feeding the locals with mind-bending gigs for more than 25 years, The Wanch is an institution of live music. This is said to be the longest running livehouse in Hong Kong. Shows are on every night from 6pm on weekdays and 4pm at weekends at this thriving space in Wan Chai. Local bands and international acts pump out various music genres from rock to jazz to blues. The bar offers nibbles including garlic bread and bacon butties. No cover charge any day of the week. At weekends the crowd usually spills out onto the sidewalk – expect maximum decibels.

Hidden Agenda
Photo courtesy of Hidden Agenda

Hidden Agenda started out in 2009 when a couple of post-80s music lovers came up with the idea of transforming a band practice room in an industrial building into a live house for indie music. It soon became a local band scene's hot spot, and a nice venue for foreign musicians on tour in Asia. Official regulations forced Hidden Agenda to move, but the new venue can hold more than 300, there's a bigger stage, and a better sound system has been installed. There is also a lounge for performers, a bars, and a place for street art products and indie label CDs called Hidden Shop. Every year Hidden Agenda stages more than 60 music shows for local and international artists, with diverse genre such as rock, heavy metal, jazz, folk, punk, post-rock, reggae, visual rock, hip-hop, experimental noise, and techno.


Meet Ed Peters

Ed Peters has been based in Asia for much of his life.