Harry's hit by a bitter blow

HONGKONG'S best-known fish and chip emporium, Harry Ramsden's, has become the latest casualty in the crackdown on unlicensed restaurants.

Earlier this month, police officers ordered staff in the Queen's Road East eatery to stop serving alcohol while its liquor licence was being considered by the Urban Council.

Harry's had been happily pouring vast quantities of local brews and imported Tetley's bitter to accompany the mounds of haddock and chipped potatoes it has been serving since it opened in August.

However, an innocent request for a beer to wash down P.S.'s Harry's Special one lunchtime last week had an embarrassed waitress saying we would have to stick to tea or soft drinks.

The Urban Services Department confirmed the restaurant's application was still being processed and that Harry's would not be able to serve alcohol until a liquor licence was issued.

The bar area is looking rather forlorn now with two decorative stacks of Harry Ramsden tea mugs standing where the spirits optics used to be, and cloths draped like shrouds over the beer pumps.

General manager Mr Bob Teasdale did not reply to an invitation to comment. This was a pity since we wanted to know what he would make of comments by a senior police officer in Tsuen Wan last week that officers would not take action against unlicensed outlets in the Kowloon Panda Hotel that were serving alcohol because the hotel was ''a well run and managed place''.

Does that mean that Harry's is a den of iniquity and a chippie of ill-repute? It is also a moot point how the prohibition will affect the franchise from Harry's headquarters in England which stipulates the Hongkong outlet must serve Tetley's beer.

The root of all this confusion is the haphazard way in which restaurant and liquor licences are dispensed, a system even senior Liquor Licensing Board officials had practically given up trying to justify last week.

Another outlet that has fallen foul of the licensing regime is the China Jump in Causeway Bay. Its application for a liquor licence was thrown out at Urbco's monthly licensing board meeting in January, after former Jump board member Mr Michael Hough admitted the bar had sold alcohol without a licence - in common with every other outlet that has to wait up to two years for the document.

Last week China Jump's management sent a new application to Urbco but the wait could be a long one.

When we visited the place last week for lunch at least 90 per cent of the tables were empty, which is hard, given the running costs are $1 million a month.

The Jump had been pulling in crowds in the evenings to watch the barmen twirl bottles while making cocktails. With that attraction virtually neutered, the crowds have all but dried up.

As he watched his under-employed colleagues, one waiter said: ''Yeh. The customers have almost all gone since we stopped serving alcohol. It's been no fun at all.''