Dangerous, dirty and cramped, but the booze is cheap upstairs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 December, 2008, 12:00am

Mr Wu, who did not want to give his full name, goes to an upstairs bar in Causeway Bay twice a week.

He is typical of the twentysomethings who go there because they are attracted by the cheap drinks and opportunities to socialise.

Little do they realise the risk they are taking if a fire breaks out. Police and fire officers say the proliferation of such bars in office towers has created a major hazard.

The Sunday Morning Post visited the upstairs bars in Causeway Bay last week to see why the Liquor Licensing Board, the police and the Fire Services Department have become concerned at their growth.

'These bars are smaller compared to those bars on the roadside. Therefore, the tables are closer together, and it is less embarrassing to play dice or drink with someone next to your table when you don't know them,' Mr Wu said.

'When you spend HK$250, you can drink as much as you can. It is cheaper to drink a lot that way.'

One bar owner in Bloom House in Causeway Bay said that 'all-you-can-drink' deals were the most effective tactic for wooing customers upstairs.

'Even during the financial meltdown, our business has not been affected very much,' the owner said.

While there is a capacity limit for some bars under their liquor licences, it is often ignored during peak hours.

A bar in Bloom House may be allowed to hold only 63 people but the owner said it would host more than 100 on weekends or holidays.

While police conducted checks about once a week, the bar owners had developed tactics for avoiding the law, he said.

'When the police come checking, the security guard will call to notify us.

'Then some of our long-term customers will walk downstairs for an hour to skip the checks, and then we will not be charged with overcapacity. Otherwise this would make licence renewals more difficult.'

However, it is not easy to walk down several floors in these buildings.

The Post went to Bloom House and Circle Tower to investigate safety.

Empty bottles and trash were dumped against the fire doors, blocking the exit.

Worst of all was the vomit on nearly every floor; both on the way to the fire escape or outside the lift, making the floor slippery.

The fire escapes were barely large enough for two people. And walking while drunk would be even more treacherous.

Mr Wu agreed that it was not easy to go up to these bars, especially during peak hours. There are just two lifts at Bloom House.

'It might take half an hour to wait for a lift,' he said. 'It sometimes takes me half an hour to go upstairs and another half hour to go downstairs.'

Another reason police are upset by the bars is that people fight for the toilets.

'There are cases of people fighting because they are drunk and they want the toilet,' said So Sau-wai, a Wan Chai police licensing commander.

Mr Wu said that while he had not fought for the toilet before, he had seen others do so.

Because the buildings were built as offices, there is only one toilet with two cubicles, one for each gender.

At times, these serve up to 100 people drinking on the same floor.