Pandemic, politics result in closure of storied Hong Kong bar


HONG KONG (AP) — Nearly 15 years in the past, Grace Ma determined to call her bar Club 71, in commemoration of a July 1, 2003 rally the place lots of of 1000’s of Hong Kongers protested a proposed nationwide safety legislation for the semi-autonomous Chinese metropolis.“I took the name Club 71, because somehow it is more hopeful, with half a million Hong Kong people having a demonstration, a rally, to stand for themselves, not to ignore what’s going on in Hong Kong,” stated Ma.For years, the storied bar has served as a watering gap for town’s pro-democracy activists and intellectuals, who might freely interact in discussions over a spherical of beer or two.Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and, in a blow to town’s Western-style freedoms, the central authorities in Beijing in June imposed sweeping nationwide safety laws focusing on political expression in response to huge anti-government protests final yr. For Ma, the troubles meant it was time to shutter the enterprise for good.Months of government-mandated bar closures as a part of coronavirus restrictions had pushed Club 71’s funds deeper into the purple, and working the bar now not made monetary sense, she stated. The bar will shut on the finish of October.“We have closed for three months, out of the past six months,” stated Ma, who’s in her 60s. “For our business, it’s impossible.”Social distancing restrictions have additionally halved the capability of town’s bars and eating places, making it tougher for them to show a revenue.“Restaurants are allowed to have four at one table … but bars only two per table,” she stated, mentioning that bars have been topic to a lot stricter restrictions, in comparison with eateries.In the final days of the bar, clients have proven up in pressure, gathering outdoors within the park and infrequently milling out and in as they order pints of beer. The colourful inside partitions are plastered with posters promoting artwork exhibitions and performances, in addition to pro-democracy paintings.Story continues“This is a place in Hong Kong where people can drop by and exchange ideas, as long as everyone respects each other, they can say whatever they want,” stated Ma.News of the bar’s imminent closure was disappointing for a few of its regulars, who cherished the distinctive environment and the combo of individuals.“There are very few bars of this kind in Hong Kong. We call it the quiet bar, which allows people to chat with each other,” stated Keung Fung, 41, one other loyal patron and a former Hong Kong pupil union consultant.“It is very unfortunate (that the bar is closing),” he stated. “I’ll need to look for another bar with similar atmosphere.”Some of Club 71’s clients additionally embody former lawmaker and pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung, generally known as “Long Hair” in Hong Kong. Leung had been an everyday in Club 71’s predecessor, Club 64.Ma had additionally run Club 64, earlier than a skyrocketing lease pressured her to move to its present location in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan neighborhood. It was then that she renamed the bar to Club 71.“It is a hub for everyone to connect and communicate with each other, sometimes sit around and discuss what to do. So you can say it’s a meeting point,” stated Leung, who had visited the bar for a beer.Other well-known bargoers through the years included Hong Kong singer Denise Ho, who is understood for her pro-democracy stance, in addition to acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Doyle.Although Ma is saddened at having to shut Club 71, in some methods it is usually a aid, she stated.“Financially, I really couldn’t hang on,” she stated. “It’s time to move on, I want to do something else.”___Associated Press journalist Phoebe Lai contributed to this report.