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Pandemic, politics result in closure of storied Hong Kong bar

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HONG KONG: Practically 15 years in the past, Grace Ma determined to call her bar Membership 71, in commemoration of a Jul 1, 2003 rally the place lots of of hundreds of Hong Kongers protested a proposed nationwide safety legislation for the semi-autonomous Chinese language metropolis.

“I took the identify Membership 71, as a result of someway it’s extra hopeful, with half 1,000,000 Hong Kong individuals having an indication, a rally, to face for themselves, to not ignore what’s happening in Hong Kong,” mentioned Ma.

For years, the storied bar has served as a watering gap for the town’s activists and intellectuals, who may freely interact in discussions over a spherical of beer or two.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and, in a blow to the town’s freedoms, the central authorities in Beijing in June imposed sweeping nationwide safety laws concentrating on political expression in response to large anti-government protests final yr. For Ma, the troubles meant it was time to shutter the enterprise for good.

Hong Kong Club 71
On this Oct 9, 2020 picture, a bartender serves beer at Membership 71 in Hong Kong. (Photograph: AP/Kin Cheung)

Months of government-mandated bar closures as a part of coronavirus restrictions had pushed Membership 71’s funds deeper into the purple, and working the bar now not made monetary sense, she mentioned. The bar will shut on the finish of October.

“We’ve closed for 3 months, out of the previous six months,” mentioned Ma, who’s in her 60s. “For our enterprise, it’s unimaginable.”

Social distancing restrictions have additionally halved the capability of the town’s bars and eating places, making it tougher for them to show a revenue.

“Eating places are allowed to have 4 at one desk … however bars solely two per desk,” she mentioned, stating that bars have been topic to a lot stricter restrictions, in comparison with eateries.

Within the final days of the bar, clients have proven up in drive, 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.

“It is a place in Hong Kong the place individuals can drop by and alternate concepts, so long as everybody respects one another, they’ll say no matter they need,” mentioned Ma.

Hong Kong Club 71
Clients sit at Membership 71 in Hong Kong. (Photograph: AP/Kin Cheung)

Information of the bar’s imminent closure was disappointing for a few of its regulars, who cherished the distinctive environment and the combination of individuals.

“There are only a few bars of this sort in Hong Kong. We name it the quiet bar, which permits individuals to talk with one another,” mentioned Keung Fung, 41, one other loyal patron and a former Hong Kong pupil union consultant.

“It is rather unlucky (that the bar is closing),” he mentioned. “I’ll must search for one other bar with related environment.”

A few of Membership 71’s clients additionally embrace former lawmaker and activist Leung Kwok-hung, often called “Lengthy Hair” in Hong Kong. Leung had been an everyday in Membership 71’s predecessor, Membership 64.

Ma had additionally run Membership 64, earlier than a skyrocketing lease pressured her to maneuver to its present location in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan neighborhood. It was then that she renamed the bar to Membership 71.

Hong Kong Club 71
Within the final days of the bar, clients have proven up in drive. (Photograph: AP)

“It’s a hub for everybody to attach and talk with one another, typically sit round and focus on what to do. So you’ll be able to say it’s a gathering level,” mentioned Leung, who had visited the bar for a beer.

Different 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.

Though Ma is saddened at having to shut Membership 71, in some methods it is usually a reduction, she mentioned.

“Financially, I actually couldn’t dangle on,” she mentioned. “It’s time to maneuver on, I wish to do one thing else.”

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