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Central Market Sees New Light While Retaining Traces of the Past

The revitalisation of the Central Market historic building bridges the gap between modernisation and history.

August 31, 2021

It’s incredible to think of the number of people who have walked through the 82-year-old building without knowing its place in Hong Kong’s history.

Established as one of Hong Kong’s first wet markets, Central Market has gone through multiple revivals, from changing locations in the mid-1800s to being transformed from a two-block, two-storey red brick building into a single four-storey building with a Streamline Moderne Art Deco look in the mid-1900s.

Owned by Urban Renewal Authority (URA) and the Chinachem Group, Central Market became the centre of attention in 2009 when it was announced that the landmark would be part of a revitalisation project. While conservationist fought the idea of gentrification, many thought it was time to breathe new life into the building while still respecting its legacy.

Last week, Central Market finally opened its doors as part of the Phase 1 soft opening, completing Central’s “Heritage Triangle” which includes PMQ and Tai Kwun. The once dilapidated building now shines with a fresh coat of paint, sleek metal railings and an open floor plan. Its interactive elements, focus on small artisan businesses and efforts to preserve old Hong Kong memories have turned Central Market into a true “playground for all”.

Lottajoy | Photo: Nina Hospitality

The area surrounding the ground floor’s open-air courtyard is filled with upscale delicatessens, elegant food court restaurants and post-work hangouts. Known as the Dining Ground, the food court offers epicureans season-driven Italian fare at CITTÁ, Chinese wok-fried staples surrounded by a mah-jong-inspired mural at Lottajoy and all-time Singaporean favourites at Pulau.

Perfume Trees Gin | Photo: Nina Hospitality

Oenophiles will find happiness amongst Winelog’s selection of award-winning labels, while beer drinkers will discover local brewer Mak’s Brewery’s collection of craft beers inspired by local ingredients such as longan and sugar cane. And for those who need something with a stronger kick, the award-winning botanical-rich Perfume Trees Gin Bar will come to the rescue with its concoctions inspired by the market’s past stalls.

I-O-N | Photo: Natasha Tang

On the first floor, I-O-N dominates with its all-day café, serving everything from Western dishes to artisan coffee and even siphon-brewed tea. On the second floor, the walkway linking lower Central to Soho is now brightly lit and filled with hanging plants, with a series of food stalls offering quick bites such as teppanyaki sandwiches and vegan ice cream.

On the opposite side of the building, Chart Coffee is ready to serve your Nutella latte, muscovado cappuccino or Belgian Liege waffle to go as you browse the nearby artisan shops selling beauty products and accessories before ending the visit at zero-waste store Slowood.

Legacy Hall | Photo: Natasha Tang

Memories of the past can still be felt throughout the market, through old-school Hong Kong candy or memorabilia shops in addition to the dedicated legacy spaces displaying pieces of the old market, from the clock whose hands are still set on 2:25—the time the fourth-generation market officially closed in March 2003 after 60 years in service—to original stalls, cast iron hooks and English Bond red bricks.