When Hong Kong-bred and London-trained nurse Amelia Leung and her husband Robert opened Hong Kong House restaurant on Greensboro’s Tate Street in 1972, little did they know that they would be raising a family there. The family consisted of not only the Leung’s bevy of offspring but the hippies, the music students, the writers and other liberal artisans of UNCG and Greensboro College, the engineers and agri-geeks from NC A&T and, later, the punks, the goths, the grunge brigade and every other subcultural entity that once made up that swatch of land in the College Hill neighborhood.
Formerly the Apple Cellar, Hong Kong House was comprised of three levels: a guitar shop atop, the macrobiotic Chinese restaurant sandwiched in the middle and, for a while, a vegetarian restaurant called Aliza’s Café owned by Larry Jacobs and Aliza Gotlieb, who eventually opened the revered Sunset Café.
When Jacobs and Gotlieb left to open Sunset, the basement became the legendary Nightshade Café.
“I think [the late] Billy ‘Ransom’ Hobbs was the first person to play there,” says Amelia, “I know we fed them all.”
Tornado, Eugene Chadbourne, the Alkaphonics, the Other Mothers, the Swinging Lobsters and countless others would book the joint pop-up style and word would spread via fliers, land lines and record-store gossip. Musicians like Bob Margolin, Mark Wenner and the Nighthawks, Glen Phillips of the Hampton Grease Band and the Indigo Girls would crank up in the low-ceilinged dive where draft beer flowed like the Mekong River.
But at the literal and figurative center of it all was Hong Kong House — a Greensboro institution that thrived for close to three decades. When the restaurant closed in 1999, a pall fell over the Gate City’s old-school hipster elite.
Enter Karen McClamroch, who for the past decade and a half has been pestering the Leungs for recipes and stockpiling photos and stories.
“I knew there was a cookbook there,” says the unreconstructed hippie who still claims Amelia’s hot and sour soup to be the finest in the land and the best hangover cure on earth. “But I have to tell you that Amelia did not have ONE SINGLE recipe written down when we started this process. Of course, there were many life events that got in the way but we literally started from scratch.”
With the help of Scott Sawyer who gathered many photos, Bobby Kelly and Keith Roscoe who lived to tell the tales, Manlin Chee who commissioned artist Maggie Fickett for the cover art years ago, Sara Jane Mann for editing and art direction and David Dulaney for editing photos, the Hong Kong House Cookbook came to life this week.
Amelia says that a book launch is tentatively planned for Oct. 23 at Tate Street’s Boba House.
“It’s really just food and music and a party for friends and family,” says Amelia.
Aptly put, because wasn’t that what Hong Kong House was all about?
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