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Dining in the Square is an evolutionary process. From Bertuccis and the Border you move on to more unusual offerings such as the Siam Garden and Roka. But eventually, every Harvard student will end up at the Hong Kong.
To Square outsiders, it's that pink fortress-like building with the garish red neon sign along Mass Ave. Ask those who go there, and they will tell you it is the ultimate dining experience.
An alternative to Harvard Dining Hall food, the Hong Kong offers a wide selection of Chinese cuisine. But regulars advise newcomers to order "intellegently."
According to Andrew H. Migdon '92, a frequent customer, the best dishes include chicken fingers and Peking raviolis ("Peking ravs," for frequent Kongers) and hot-and-sour soup.
"We're cool on the soups," says Migdon.
Still other customers swear by the combination plates. "C6 is excellent," claims Paul S. Vietzen '95.
Some Adams House residents say that the presence of the Kong eliminates the need for a house grille and maybe even the dining hall.
"For Adams, it's closer than the dining hall for some people," says Michael O. Voll '93.
"You don't even need a grille in Adams, with Tommy's and the Kong," Tina P. Hsu '93 adds.
But many students say its not the food that draws them to the Kong. More than a restaurant, it is Harvard's only party that is still going on after 1 a.m.
"It's not Chinese food, it's the Kong," says Migdon.
A typical weekend night at the "Kong"--insiders' affectionate name for the Chinese restaurant--begins late, after midnight and after students begin to run out of party options.
They crowd into the '70s-esque dining room, ready to top off the evening with a Scorpion Bowl and greasy Peking Ravs.
The Kong is where Harvard students go "when it's over," says Thomas J. Scocca '93.
Voll says that he and his friends "make random plans on a weekend, but we say, regardless, meet up at the Kong."
After the last song at a party, says Hsu, she merely needs to ask someone, "Kong?"
Or before the last song, if the party sucks," Scocca adds.
Jordan S. Ellenberg '93 appreciates the comfort of the Kong after a long, hard night of socializing. "If something traumatic happens to you at a party," he says, "you just bite into a platter of Peking ravs. There can't be more than that, can there? Other food doesn't do that. Even if you're sober, it still works."
"The food just intersects so well with what you want when you're drunk. It's greasy, it's salty, it's hot," Scocca agrees.
After an evening at a Weld Hall party and the Crimson Grille, Vietzen and his friends Walter E. B. Sipp '95 and Cristian S. Torres '95 arrived at the Kong around 1:30 a.m. yesterday. Torres, after a quick glance at his Zodiac placemat, introduces himself as "Cris Torres, Year of the Buffalo," and explains that he and his friends are there to satisfy some "alcohol-induced munchies."
"I gotta get rid of these hiccups," says Sipp.
And Torres advises him, "Twentyfive swallows of water without taking a breath. That's what my second grade teacher told me."
The food arrives. Sipp exclaims, "Oh yeah, here we go! look at the food, baby." All conversation ceases as they dig into plates of noodles, sweet and sour pork, and Peking ravs. John Lennon's "Imagine" comes over the stereo system, and Sipp, Torres and Vietzen begin to sing along softly.
Jong H. Lee '93 says he ordinarily tries to avoid restaurants in pink buildings. But Thursday night he couldn't follow his own advice.
Lee says he and a friend originally intended to get ice-cream, but somehow ended up at the Kong. "We never plan to go here, is the thing. We just kind of end up here, and we don't know why," Lee explains. "Kind of an inevitable force," his friend Jason S. Horowitz '93 adds.
Although other students say they enter this building on the "spur of the moment," not everyone "ends up" here. Many students make sure that their evening plans include a visit to the Hong Kong.
And for the serious Kong goer, a visit is made almost every night. Some go so far as to say it is an obsession.
"It's like a state, a state of Kong," Ellenberg explains.
The "groupies" have many words to describe their favorite nighttime eatery: "Community," "An institution," "Culture" and "Sub-culture."
Hsu equate the Kong with the famed TV hangout "Cheers."
It's Harvard's very own "Cheers," says Hsu, "where everybody knows your name." Hsu says the staff knows her standard order, soup. And her friends know to check the Hong Kong if they are trying to find her, she says.
But the "Cheers" comparison doesn't work for Ellenberg: "Cheers is pretentious," he says.
Even if the Kong isn't as pretentious as the famed bar, it still has its own Norms, Cliffs and Fraziers. "Andy's like the King of the Kong," explains Migdon's friend, Matt Pagano '92.
Migdon is such a frequent diner that the staff knows him by name, according to Pagano.
"I always get a table very quickly," Migdon agrees. Migdon's attendance at the Hong Kong "is sort of a seasonal thing. There are times when we come once, twice a week. Other times it's more like five or six times a week," he says.
Certain nights are more important than others in the Frequent Konger's weekly schedule. "Thursday night is key," says Migdon. "L.A. Law. A couple drinks. The Kong."
Monday nights are the low point in a Kong lover's week--the restaurant is closed. "Even Kong goers make the mistake. you say, 'Kong?' and you show up and see the sign that says it's closed on Mondays. It's a big faux pas," Migdon explains.
"It's usually a crisis when I realize it's a Monday," says Scocca. What, then, is a Kong regular to do on a Monday night?
"Suffer," says Ellenberg.
The Hong Kong eventually becomes an addiction for many of its fans. When regulars pull all-nighters, they have to allot quality Kong time, Voll says. "The Kong definitely hits you at your most vulnerable point. You're feeling sorry for yourself because it's late, and you start thinking, `what's one more hour?'" he says.
It all begins with take-out. and before students know it, it becomes a habit, Kongers say.
"The Hong Kong starts as a takeout liking, and becomes an addiction," says Vietzen. "Until you guys brought me here," he says, turning to his three friends, "I was going through withdrawal. Since spring break we've been here, what, zero times?"
For Hsu, her regular visits to the Kong "started turning into a joke, and then it became a duty."
"Yeah, for you," Scocca retorts. Scocca and Ellenberg say their Kong attendance is "not a duty, it's a reflex."
For some students, their intense relationship with the Kong affects their worldview. Voll says that he once saw a poster recruiting members for the Harvard Hong Kong Club, an organization for students from that city. Voll, who goes to the Kong three or four nights a week, says he felt left out and wondered, "why am I not a part of this?"
The Hong Kong is not just a noun, its regulars insist. "`Kong' is definitely a verb, `to Kong,'" says Scocca.
Ellenberg tries it out as an adjective: "`How do you feel?' `Kong.'" Scocca and Hsu immediately veto the suggestion. But, says Scocca, "it can be an imperative. At a party I can go up to Jordan and say, `Kong.'"
But even the regulars say they don't know everything there is to know about the Kong. Many acknowledge there are mysteries in the windowless pink stucco building.
Hsu said the bar upstairs is unfamiliar territory for the typical Harvard undergraduate.
And the third floor?
"Nobody knows. It's all speculation," says Scocca.
"I think that's where you go when you die," Ellenberg answers.
"There could be worse places," Scocca says.
But it is perhaps Peter G. Whang '95 who best summed up the Kong, "The food's nothing great. The service isn't that great. There's just something about the place."
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