There used to be an actual line. That we had to actually wait in. We used to line up from the elevator bank in the Harbour View Hotel across the bridge and over to the Great Eagle Centre, or double-backed towards Central Plaza, and we used to wait. We waited in the balmy near-summer heat if it was the prom after-party, or in the wincing wet cold when we were back from college for the holidays. We waited, we paid cover, we had tickets. We were young.
We didn’t drink as much then, at ing. We did shots, but not hard shots; we got tables and bottles, but we didn’t stand on the tables and we didn’t drink from the bottles, didn’t hoist them over each others’ mouths and count to three. The whole place, and the space, the pace, felt less frenzied, if no less drunk (we tolerated less), and the hip-hop floor in the front or the bar in the back with the karaoke booths off to the side always had room to linger. The time between now and then, its passage between Privé and ing, is like a decade-thick dampener, and it makes me want to say they used to play the music softer at ing, that conversations used to be audible, though I know that can’t be true.
If ing shuttered on our childhood, we passed through adolescence inside Hei Hei, where the lines started to bunch up, into packs, along and around the On Hing Terrace stairs. We got in because some of us were members now, and because if you went enough, and you waited around long enough, you always knew someone who knew John. There was the small pool outside no one ever swam in, not intentionally, and the one far side of the island bar that was raised a couple steps, higher ground, the best vantage point from which to survey who were the cutest girls, and if (and what) they were drinking, and why we can’t ever seem to stop doing this.
And if when Hei Hei closed, too, we were meant to reach some kind of adulthood at Privé, if because some of us were now old enough to be owners it meant we were somehow more seasoned, or just needed more sleep, we weren’t, and we didn’t. We sat on the tops of the couches on the upper floor with our backs to crowds below, and we did harder shots, we drank straight from the bottles for longer and we stayed out in the night later. I think of all the strange pathways at these clubs, to the karaoke booths at ing, and between the elevator lobby and the bathrooms at Hei Hei or through the kitchen at Privé, and I think I could enter through any one of them and exit out any other, time machines taking me nowhere.
A couple months ago, when the lights came up at Privé for what I had naively assumed would be the last time, my first thought was how much we had aged in these places, and how different we all are from when we used to line up along the bridge outside ing. But then I realized that though we had changed, these were not the places where we changed; these were the places where we get to be the same, no matter what year it is or how old we are, these are our refuges of sameness, our Neverlands, where for better or worse we stay, if not forever young then at least forever foolish.