‘Socially irresponsible drinking’: how the Hong Kong Sevens means big business for the bars of Wan Chai

Despite the added risk of wet weather, the later dates of the competition are a boon to Hong Kong bar owners

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 April, 2018, 6:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 April, 2018, 10:34pm

It’s not just the sex workers in Wan Chai who win big during Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens week, but the bars too.

Most revellers naturally set sail for Wan Chai as they pour out of Hong Kong Stadium – it’s a perfect fit being walking distance, roughly 30 minutes for even the most sozzled spectators.

With Lan Kwai Fong a cab ride or MTR journey away, when you’re trashed and you follow that Sevens crowd out of the stadium you invariably end up in Lockhart or Jaffe Road, with very few bars on the redeveloped side of Wan Chai permitted to stay open beyond 11pm.

With 24-hour licences allowed because it is a commercial district, these bars make 50 per cent of their revenue after midnight because almost every other drinking area on the island shuts down.

It’s “socially irresponsible drinking” as one Wan Chai bar owner puts it.

It is an area driven aggressively by trade shows, too, the largest of which are usually timed to coincide with Sevens week.

The Hong Kong International Lighting Fair is in town this weekend at the Exhibition and Convention Centre, with the Mines and Money Asia conference on right now, and the Hong Kong Electronics Fair starting on Tuesday, all just a few minutes walk away from the red light district, in what is a real boom period for the area.

“With the rugby sevens, all the bars are full, so many people are coming,” said one bar manager this week. “We have the LED fair, then Thursday is public holiday, so we know we will start off very busy.

“Then Friday, Saturday, Sunday it’s really busy. Then Monday some of the men go home. Monday nights sometimes are also very busy, but then Tuesday it goes down again.”

In effect, this part of Wan Chai is driven by people from out of town, people coming in for the Sevens, for a big weekend or for a business trip, people travelling to visit a friend.

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Revenues will go up in most Lockhart Road and Jaffe Road bars between 50 to 100 per cent when there is a trade show on, according to one bar owner, and by even more during the Sevens.

The owner says he gets daily numbers starting the Monday of the Sevens week, instead of a normal weekly report, with a big increase throughout the week.

Pushing the Sevens two weeks later into the second weekend in April has had an impact, said a bar owner. The Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference, which took place on March 19-22 this year, used to be perfectly timed but the bars still make the business – it’s just been spread out a bit more.

If you look at the weather, April has more rainy days than March, which over time could mean more wet Sevens – a “disaster” for street-level bars according to one owner, with the huge street drinking aspect killed by the rain and people driven downstairs into the murkier bars.

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Others have been trying to get a slice of the Sevens drinking action, too – the Wan Chai bars have had to adjust to the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s Sevens Village opposite the stadium, which takes business away from Lockhart Road and Jaffe Road according to one bar owner.

Also complicating this year is whether the weakened competition will affect the numbers of fans travelling for the event.

“This year it’s the Commonwealth Games so we have to wait,” said a bar manager. “It’s not the strongest teams – the English team is weaker, others too, because they are prioritising the Commonwealth Games.

“Fiji will still have a strong team, despite being on the Commonwealth Games. America will be strong too. But it’s still for us a question, is it gonna get as busy as the year before, because of this.”