Nightspots in talks to tackle crime
Worried bar and restaurant owners in Wan Chai's entertainment district have begun moves to clean up the area's reputation amid fears that a cutthroat alcohol price war and bad publicity from high-profile drugrelated deaths threatened its future.
Publicans have also voiced concerns that formerly 'legitimate' outlets are now offering financial inducements to prostitutes to drink in bars to lure customers.
Others argue that a creeping trend of rowdy, and sometimes violent, behaviour linked to the availability of cheap alcohol can be tackled only by a more visible police presence.
Representatives of nightspots in and around Lockhart Road recently met in Lan Kwai Fong to discuss an association to boost marketing of the area and improve its image.
At what was described as a preliminary meeting of both individual publicans and representatives of several well-known food and beverage groups with operations in Wan Chai, Lan Kwai Fong and Soho, business chiefs discussed everything from rising rents and the alcohol price war to unconfirmed reports of robberies by prostitutes using 'date-rape' drugs.
It is understood the group wants to take Wan Chai down the road of Lan Kwai Fong and Soho, which have influential owners' associations.
Police were invited to attend but did not. However, a police spokesman said they were interested in working with businesses once they had a clearer picture of the direction the fledgling association was taking.
Gareth Moore, regional general manager of the Epicurean Group, which operates outlets in Wan Chai and Soho, attended. 'There's a feeling that if Lan Kwai Fong and Soho can [set up an association], why can't a fun place like Wan Chai. It is an attempt to come together, better market the place and improve its image.'
A second meeting was to be held after the Lunar New Year.
Amid rising rents and general competition, many Lockhart Road area bars are offering cut-price drinks. In one, customers are being offered 30 pints of lager for HK$300, while in another, women can drink spirits free from 9pm until 4am.
'The cheap deals are attracting the wrong sort of people, and there's a feeling that it is about time something was done,' said one bar owner.
There was also concern over unconfirmed reports of prostitutes using 'date rape' drugs to spike men's drinks before emptying their wallets. A senior police source said they had anecdotal evidence, but little else.
A police spokesman said that last year, the number of incidents of late-night violence in the Wan Chai district was virtually identical to that of 2006, adding that there had been a slight increase in or near nightspots. 'However, this situation occurred across all entertainment areas in the district,' he said.
'The police take the problem seriously and have, in recent years, increased both uniform and plainclothes police presence in these areas during their hours of business.'
But another long-time Wan Chai publican said: 'The number of reported crimes might well be stable, but you just have to take a walk down Lockhart any weekend to see behaviour that, in many places, would lead to arrests. I know the police have a tough job striking a balance, but maybe a more visible presence is the answer.'
In October, Michael Victore, 51, and Paul Cherry, 45, were found dead in Wan Chai's Grand Hyatt Hotel after taking a lethal mix of heroin and cocaine.
It is understood police will recommend an inquest be held into their deaths.
In 2003, a senior Finnish police officer died from a heart attack at the Island Shangri-la hotel after being given drugs. A prostitute suspected of involvement was never found.