After two lengthy mandatory closures due to the Hong Kong government’s COVID-19 pandemic measures, Hong Kong’s infamous Lan Kwai Fong nightlife area is in the midst of a fight for its life.
Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) consists of two streets, Lan Kwai Fong and D’Aguilar, lined with what once was nearly 130 restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Now, those numbers have dwindled. The streets are quiet and sadly devoid of evidence of the usual debauchery that used to take place every night in the area. All the doors are shut along the streets and some locations – like The Lighthouse, right on the corner of Lan Kwai Fong – have closed their doors for good. The Lighthouse was hoped to have been a replacement for the legendary Stormies, which succumbed to an already tough year for business in 2019.
In March of 2020, the LKF area was riddled with COVID-19 cases. Two confirmed cases were found to be members of the Pure gym in the California Tower, though what rocked the foundation of Lan Kwai Fong was more than 55 COVID-19 cases and nearly 100 people quarantined due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among the staff and live music performers at Insomnia, a well-known bar for good quality music and dancing. Since Insomnia was part of a restaurant group that included All Night Long in Tsim Sha Tsui as well as Centre Stage and Dusk til Dawn in Wan Chai, the amount of cases associated with Insomnia and the nightlife scene rose very quickly.
Most people in Hong Kong felt the party and laissez-faire atmosphere of Lan Kwai Fong posed an unnecessary risk of spreading COVID-19 exponentially. The bars and clubs of Lan Kwai Fong had to close for four mandatory weeks and experienced ongoing restrictions such as half capacity and social distance seating capacity. It took longer for live performances to be allowed in bars such as Insomnia. Now, it is the same all over again.
On July 13, 2020, 52 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, and 41 of those cases were local without a known source – so the Hong Kong government imposed new restrictions which stated that any premises exclusively or mainly used for the “sale or supply of intoxicating liquor” must stop all operations. Since that day, it has been reported in the South China Morning Post that the entire Hong Kong food and beverage industry has been deprived of HK$5 billion (US$645.1 million) and HK$6.5 billion in July and August respectively, which means that business has depreciated by 65%.
This is while a majority of food and beverage businesses in Hong Kong have been allowed to serve dine-in customers until 6 p.m. and now recently until 9 p.m., so one can imagine the amount of lost revenue for Lan Kwai Fong where only a small number of businesses have been allowed to operate as a restaurant during the restrictions. But other businesses such as the popular nightclubs of Sound Department, Graffiti and Volar have not been able to open. Therefore, many leaders within the food and beverage industry believe the majority of businesses closed due to the mandate will not survive without government subsidies.
The future of Lan Kwai Fong
The most important man in the business, Allan Zeman, who is the father of Lan Kwai Fong and owns a great deal of property in the area, has spoken out publicly regarding the survival of the bars and nightclubs under these current strict restrictions. He stated: “It does not make sense. I am disappointed because I just think there comes a time that we really have to move and [allow bars and pubs] to open up at 50% of capacity for two people per table to 10 p.m. At least give them a chance to have a job, and give people a chance to live. It is important for the government to give them a lifeline.”
Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong up until the 80s was flower shops and random shops of commerce. A German immigrant from Canada named Allan Zeman saw a great opportunity in this underused area right in the heart of the city’s center. He took over a Chinese grocery and turned it into the trendiest eatery of that time with celebrities like Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh as customers. With a vision of a potentially profitable future, Zeman bought more real estate in the area and spearheaded it into the nightlife hot spot which LKF is quite known for being.
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