A night at the Kong

BY CLINTON TORRES

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Laughter to our left, solemn conversation to our right. Alcohol straight ahead. It is 8 p.m., and there are a handful of people at the bar, a couple in the corner and a group of guys who just roused themselves from humdrum conversation about sports and cars so they can devote their still-sober energies to the assortment of women who have just entered the bar. It is still relatively quiet at the Kong.

We shake our heads at this typical game of pre-war Freudian sublimation of libidian energy and approach the bar. The bartender looks up as we approach, sizing us up and wondering what type of drink we are: rugged beer guys who will ask him to switch the channel to the game; tequila guys who are here to pick up women or, more likely, to watch The Man Show; or preppy Merlot types who will want to watch the Food Network and converse about their latest property assignment (this type, it should be noted, ought to bolt for the exits). We return his gaze and wonder which of the two bartender types will serve us tonight: the talkative and empathetic barkeep of movie lore who keeps wiping the same glass, or the somber quiet guy who gives you your drink and leaves you to your business.

We sit down on the stools and order our drinks. A rum and coke — to which the bartender nods in approval — and a seltzer water that causes him to raise an eye in suspicion. We sip our beverages and ponder the history of the Kong.

The Hong Kong has been an established part of Harvard Square since 1954 when it first opened as a small restaurant. A man named Lee and his wife ran the small operation. The venture proved successful enough that, by 1970, the Lees were able to buy out the laundromat next door and expand their business to three floors with a bar. The Kong continued its expansion in the 1970s with a comedy club, which hosted well-known comedians such as Bill Murray. After a while, the comedy club fell on hard times, but was revived by a comedian who had been a regular to the establishment and wanted to keep the laughter flowing.

10:30 p.m. Two hours and four rum-and-cokes later, the place has filled up and the T.V. is on the game. Everywhere around us, people are screaming “scorpion bowl, scorpion bowl.” We have always heard that the scorpion bowl is known for bringing people together, and tonight many will fall prey to the scorpion’s sting. The women who entered the bar earlier have joined the sports and cars guys. Perhaps it’s our penchant for cynicism, but we bet it’s the four scorpion bowls on the table — and not the scintillating conversation — that keeps this crew at the table.

We order another round of drinks and ask the bartender about the magical ingredients of the scorpion bowl. A knowing smile comes to his face and he shakes his head. He has been asked this question a thousand times.

The ingredients of the scorpion are a well-kept secret of the Lee family. The Hong Kong special is known to consist of nine or ten different types of alcohol, and its fruity taste has attracted visitors from as far away as San Francisco. Harvard students’ love affair with the scorpion bowl has secured the Kong’s status as one of the premier bars of Harvard Square. As far back as the October 1982 issue of Playboy (which hangs on the wall near the entrance) the Kong was cited as the “Hottest Hangout” for Harvard students.

12:00 a.m. We are up on the third floor getting our groove on in a scene strongly reminiscent of A Night at the Roxbury. The floor is packed, yet we seem to be dancing alone. Perhaps because of our inflated egos, we figure the problem lies not with us but with the music. We do a two-man conga line over to the D.J. and write down our request for a hip-happening song. The D.J. looks at our request, rolls his eyes, but, nevertheless, puts on that great classic, the Macarena. A moan reverberates throughout the floor as all dancing ceases. Taking advantage of the captive audience, we proceed to the middle of the dance floor to show them how it’s done. The crowd disperses. Left alone on the dance floor, we gaze into the emptiness before us and see our own mortality reflected back. Or was that a mirror?

In 1993, the Hong Kong transformed its third floor into a dance club and remodeled the second floor to resemble a pub. Though Mr. Lee passed away, his wife and their children have continued to ensure that the Hong Kong remains a favorite spot among dancers and drinkers. The venue will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary next year.

1:00 a.m. The D.J. tells us to leave the dance floor after our brilliant reenactment of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” video, so we head back downstairs. Feeling the need for refreshment, I head to the bar to order a scorpion bowl and seltzer water. The bartender shakes his head. Realizing that it is past 1:00 a.m., and that alcohol is no longer served, I plead with the bartender to make an exception. The all-knowing bartender explains that the time is not a problem because the Kong’s license permits alcohol to be served until 2:00 a.m. The problem is that the scorpion bowl may not be served to only one individual. Feeling rather clever after seven rum-and-cokes, I wave my compatriot over. I indicate to the bartender that the bowl is for both of us, so he grudgingly serves it with two straws. Although I convince my friend to keep the straw in his mouth for the sake of appearances, the delicious nectar is only absorbed by one of us: me.

DISCLAIMER: The combination of seven rum and cokes with a scorpion bowl has been known to lead to severe intoxication. As such, the rest of this article is written only by the sober, mature and genuinely better guy of the writing pair.

1:05 a.m. As I watch my companion fall off the stool in a drunken state, I finally stop looking silly by ending the charade and removing my mouth from the straw. I give a sheepish look to the bartender, who shakes his head. Flexing my muscles for the ladies, I motion over a bouncer to pick up my friend and carry him outside. In an act of great compassion, I wrap my arm around him to assist him in the walk home through the cold. I drag him as far as Gropius before I realize that he lives in North Hall. Too lazy to go any further, I drop him off in a first-floor lounge to sleep off his night of flavorable pleasures. As I walk away I can hear my friend muttering “I love the Hong Kong.”

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