Bidding adieu to Hong Kong’s iconic 24-hour all-day breakfast diner, The Flying Pan, in this emotional Op-Ed by Harbour Times’ own Cyril Ma.
I don’t think anyone remembers the first time they went to The Flying Pan. If you do, then either you went as a kid or you were feeling very sad. Nestled somehow perfectly just above the crowds on the corner of The Wanch, the police headquarters, Fenwick Pier and the Academy for Performing Arts, The Flying Pan, in just 17 years served a wide demographic McDonald’s could only dream of emulating.
Have late-night rehearsals at the Academy with nowhere to eat? Go to The Flying Pan. Drunk and distraught from being unable to pick someone up? Go cry at The Flying Pan. Need coffee, right now, and lots of it? The Flying Pan it is.
I recall having grits for the first time there. Watery, tasteless. I drowned it in tabasco. I would later go to study in New Orleans where I’d have grits every day cooked and seasoned to perfection. Then I’d come home and order it. I had buttermilk pancakes, fried steak with all the works for the first time there too. Nowadays, the streets are filled with ‘American Diners’, but The Flying Pan was different. Newer diners have street signs on the walls, they serve 200$ burgers and play loud rock music. You’d go and try these diners, all of which are destined to be bought out by another, fancier, more gentrified store (perhaps an upscale coffeeshop? Anyone been to Sai Kung lately?) only to compare it to The Flying Pan. A real greasy spoon in what used to be a very American part of town – after all Fenwick Pier is still, for the next 12 odd months, just around the corner. The Wanch has been, for the last 12 odd months, no longer around the corner.
Humble and unassuming. A real greasy spoon. The servers did not care about your existence but were lovely. Endless cups of coffee, as though you were transported to a New York noir novel. Endless cups of memories. It was there that my high school girlfriend’s parents and my parents met for the first time after we both performed at the Academy. I was, of course, told off afterwards for having them meet at The Flying Pan of all places but that’s exactly what happens at The Flying Pan of all places. We don’t keep in touch. Naturally, my current partner is also a fan. She too would go after late-night shows at the Academy.
Generations of starving artists, drunkards, locals and expats alike, sitting one after the other on the same ripped leather seats sharing boozy milkshakes with the cockroaches. I knew something weird was up when I couldn’t get a pint of Brooklyn with my pancakes a year and a half ago. Not only from them, but the whole of Wan Chai has seen very little beer over the past year. Perhaps without as many hangovers, people are making breakfast at home. Life flickering like the old neon beer ad on the wall.
This is another casualty that will (in the grand scheme of neighbourhood renewal policies, proper economic revitalisation and forward-thinking leadership) be brushed under the carpet. The Flying Pan just wasn’t and maybe isn’t, quite right for the Hong Kong market. The menus were in English, they served American food at reasonable prices. People ate non-Chinese food in an unpretentious local setting. That’s simply not quite right.
Not far across the harbour, a musical fountain plays sadly, covered in soap suds. A symbol of revitalisation asked for by the local community, they said.
Maybe they’re playing for you, Flying Pan. A requiem. A Memento Mori for all those still standing.
I’ve still got my membership card. It was only stamped last year at the Central branch the day it closed; the sweet waitress told me I could use it at the Wan Chai branch. When I fly off to dine with you again, I’ll bring it.