Upmarket bar's rooftop garden is public space

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 April, 2009, 12:00am

Fancy throwing a party? You could fork out HK$20,000 to rent the roof garden of The Pawn, the heritage building turned trendy gastropub in Wan Chai.

Or you could go there and not pay a cent - because the area is actually classified as open space that can be used by anyone, not just bar patrons.

The British-style pub and restaurant in Johnston Road, hailed as a landmark revitalisation of an old building, is another of those venues that inhabit a confusing zone between private and public space.

The Pawn was built in 1888 as four separate shophouses, one of which was called the Wo Cheong Pawn Shop. They were restored by the Urban Renewal Authority in 2005 at a cost of HK$15 million.

Although the building is now rented by a private company, part of the building is required to be open to the public, even though it is not legally bound to do so.

The rooftop of the building, which is decorated as a garden, is public open space under a consensus between the government and the URA. However, its status as a public open space is not stated clearly either on the lease or the master layout plan of the development.

The only hint that the area is an open space is a sign posted next to the lift inside the building, which says the roof garden is open to the public daily from 11am to 11pm.

There was uproar last year after it emerged that the operators of Times Square in Causeway Bay had restricted access to a public piazza and rented out parts of it. And nightclub Dragon-i in Central was caught out by the Sunday Morning Post roping off and charging entry to a public area.

William Wan Shiu-wah, the URA's director of property and land, said: 'While we are drafting the master layout plan of the project, we believe the rooftop should be open to the public as it is a preserved building.'

The URA said the roof garden was opened to the public as a goodwill gesture after the premises were leased for commercial use.

The Pawn said bookings for this month were nearly full. The minimum charge is HK$18,000, plus 10 per cent charge, for five hours.

The contradictory nature of the space has created trouble. Janis Tong, who visited the roof garden with friends in November, was questioned by Pawn staff.

'When we had been there about 20 minutes, a staff member came and asked if we wanted anything. When we replied no and said it is an open space, he gave us a long face.'

Ada Wong Ying-kay, ex-chairwoman of Wan Chai District Council, said a local tour was barred from entering the garden. 'They were told there was a private function and they were not welcome.'

Pawn manager Sam Lam Shing-wai said: 'All our staff understand the roof garden is open for visits.'

Mr Wan said the authority was going to hire two security guards to ensure public access to the roof.