In recent years, restaurants and shops have established themselves as viable platforms for activism, but what of hotels? With the transformation of the ageing Eaton Hotel in Kowloon’s Jordan neighbourhood into the hip, new, millennial-focused Eaton HK, Hong Kong might finally have its answer.
Previously an unremarkable business hotel owned by the Langham Group, Eaton HK underwent an extensive year-long rolling renovation under the eye of group founder Lo Ka-shui’s daughter, Katherine Lo. What emerged was a model for hospitality that has never before been seen, centred around activism, social justice and a “global tribe” of creatives which Katherine’s umbrella brand, Eaton Workshop, hopes will engender positive change globally.
To this end, it is not the hotel’s 465 guest rooms that drive home this mission – despite the naturally formulated Grown Alchemist bath products and purifying Himalayan salt lamps – but the public spaces, designed by AvroKO and inspired by everything from the neighbourhood cha chaan teng to Wong Kar-Wai films, where it hopes to effect social impact.
Foremost is Eaton House, a co-working space spread over two floors that also serves as an incubator for the likes of artists and advocacy groups. Prices start from HK$2,500/month, and includes the use of an in-house 50-seat theatre with a 4K Sony digital projector that has already played host to panel discussions on sexuality and psychedelics, and a screening of sustainable fashion documentary, River Blue.
Murals by local artists Jan Curious and Afa Annfa decorate the main rooms, underlining Eaton HK’s efforts to support the city’s grassroots art scene.
Community seems to be at the core of the hotel’s food offerings too. Located at the bottom of the lobby’s three-floor atrium, below a centrepiece chandelier made of steel pipes and canvas that resembles the stalls of Ladies’ Market, The Astor is an all-day dining venue that assumes the role of Eaton’s town square while exuding the atmosphere of a decidedly upmarket hawker centre. 8 live cooking stations serve everything from siu mei roasted meats and wonton noodles, to tempura and Korean japchae.
One level up is the Food Hall, which, clad in retro-inspired mosaic tiling reminiscent of the nearby Mido Cafe, immediately feels familiar to any Hongkonger. Here, 11 mostly Hong Kong food vendors ply their business, among them the hotel’s Flower Years bar – so named after the literal Chinese translation of Wong Kar-wai’s seminal film, In The Mood For Love – which occasionally functions as an experimental incubator kitchen for guest chefs. A radio station tucked between the vendors serves as the base for a dedicated media platform for underground music and coverage on social issues that are ignored by mainstream stations.
Meanwhile in the basement, one Michelin-starred Yat Tung Heen serves up high Cantonese fare in dark wood-panelled surrounds that evoke the opulent sets of another Wong Kar-wai film, The Grandmaster. And on Eaton HK’s expansive outdoor terrace is Terrible Baby, possibly one of the city’s more unique bar settings thanks to the panoramic elevators zipping up and down behind the cocktail bar.
Not even the ballrooms have escaped the Eaton’s progressive values. Named after the greatest rule-bending Cantonese stars of the ’90s – Anita (after singer Anita Mui), Maggie (Cheung, doyenne of the local film industry), and Michelle (Yeoh, of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Crazy Rich Asians fame) – they recently hosted a wedding fair that advocated shark fin-free banquet menus and cheongsam fittings to appeal to nostalgic and sustainability-minded millennials shopping for a wedding venue with a difference.
Indeed, Katherine Lo is serious about engendering a global movement, with Washington’s 209-room Eaton DC up and running, and further locations in San Francisco and Seattle (to be designed by Kengo Kuma) slated for the near future.
It’s easy to be sceptical of any hotel that claims to act as a vehicle of social progress, especially in commercially-driven Hong Kong. What’s harder is to convince savvy digital natives – so primed to sniff out any whiff of inauthenticity – that your word is true; yet Eaton HK, with Lo’s very real activist credentials, seems to make it a likely proposition thanks to a robust offering of food, drink, community programming and arresting interiors. If anything, the bar deserves a repeat visit for views that even Wong Kar-Wai would be proud of.
Eaton HK will be hosting its inaugural Human/Progress Festival on November 16-18, featuring free and public activism-centred programming. Click here for more details, and don’t miss these other hotels that are shaking up the hospitality scene.
Top image: Lit Ma