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Tuesday, Apr 23, 2024

Bars in Wan Chai, Lan Kwai Fong hope Hong Kong Sevens fans will erase bad memories

Bars in Wan Chai, Lan Kwai Fong hope Hong Kong Sevens fans will erase bad memories

Nightlife hotspots looking for rugby weekend to mark their comeback after years in doldrums because of Covid-19.

Bar owners and operators in nightlife hotspots are optimistic that this weekend’s Hong Kong Sevens will light a spark that returns the once rowdy district to its former glory, following more than three years of a downturn because of the Covid-19 pandemic and 2019 social unrest.

Bars and pubs in Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong in Central were bustling with fans laughing and singing on Friday night, with the crowds overflowing onto the pavement.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Liam O’Mahony, a 27-year-old from Ireland who was with friends in Lan Kwai Fong.

Fans headed to Wan Chai after the day’s matches ended.

It was O’Mahony’s first time visiting the city, which he described as “vibrant” and living up to the hype.

In Wan Chai, long-time resident Dave Ross, 56, said the area was “buzzing with energy” from all the international tourists and others enjoying the night.

“It’s not quite as busy as it was before the pandemic, but it’s found the right direction,” he said.

Rugby fans traditionally head to Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong for a night out after watching the day’s matches at the Hong Kong Stadium in Causeway Bay. Bar and pub operators said they expected brisk business.

Fans attend the opening day of the Hong Kong Sevens.

“I am 100 per cent confident this weekend will be busier than November,” said Chris Foalle, the general manager at Devil’s Advocate on Lockhart Road.

Foalle said he expected revenue to double and the bar would sell about 50 per cent more drinks during this weekend’s tournament than it did last November. He added that he had already seen an uptick in business throughout the week as international visitors returned to the city.

However, he said it would take time for business to return to pre-pandemic levels.

“People who know about Hong Kong are coming back,” he said, “but it’s going to take until next year for it to really get back to where it was.”

The sentiment was echoed by JR Nacinopa, the general manager at El Gordo Tacos & Grill, who has worked in Hong Kong’s food and drink industry for about 20 years.

“We do not have the pre-pandemic levels of tourists coming in yet, but confidence is on the upswing,” he said.

While the restaurant and bar only opened three months ago, Nacinopa said he expected business to surge by 400 to 500 per cent this weekend. He added that while the restaurant went through 2 or 3 kegs of beer a week, he has at least 10 prepared for Friday.

For many venues in Wan Chai, any upswing in business from this weekend will be welcome after last November.

“We were hoping it [November’s tournament] would be like before, and it wasn’t anything like that,” said KC Carreon, the manager at Centrico, a bar with Everest Group HK.

While there had been hopes 2022’s edition of the rugby tournament would mark the bar district’s re-emergence from the doldrums, lingering Covid-19 restrictions and a lack of inbound tourism largely stifled those aspirations.

Carreon said that while the bar had tempered its expectations in light of the lack of tourists, their earnings for the weekend were still only about 30 to 40 per cent of what they had expected.

“We lost a lot of money in November,” she added.

But even she was hopeful this weekend would be a marked improvement over the past few years. She said they had scheduled more staff for this weekend and expect at least 70 per cent more business than usual.

Mhay, a bartender at Lockhart 88, said the end of Covid-19 restrictions in the city now meant more customers and the bar had prepared at least twice the amount of beer it usually would.

She said that if the bar got busy Friday, it would indicate that business would be up for the whole weekend.

“So let’s see how it goes,” she said.

The Post spoke with some spectators at the Hong Kong Sevens who were heading to Wan Chai after the last game ended at around 9pm.

For 61-year-old Martin, who did not give his last name, it was the atmosphere in Wan Chai that drew him back each year. Originally from Wales, this is his fourth Hong Kong Sevens.

“It’s the environment,” he said. “It’s nice to see all the people congregating together.”

Another fan, Chris, who did not give his last name, made his way to the area after he landed earlier this week from his home in England. The 53-year-old said he was at Churchill’s on Lockhart Road on Thursday night and was looking forward to going back again over the weekend.

He added it was unfortunate the district had been so hard hit over the past three years.

“I’m hoping it will get back to how it used to be,” he said.


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