HONG KONG (AP) — Almost 15 years in the past, Grace Ma determined to call her bar Membership 71, in commemoration of a July 1, 2003 rally the place a whole bunch of hundreds of Hong Kongers protested a proposed nationwide safety regulation for the semi-autonomous Chinese language metropolis.
“I took the identify Membership 71, as a result of by some means it’s extra hopeful, with half 1,000,000 Hong Kong folks having an indication, a rally, to face for themselves, to not ignore what’s happening in Hong Kong,” mentioned Ma.
For years, the storied bar has served as a watering gap for town’s pro-democracy activists and intellectuals, who may freely have interaction in discussions over a spherical of beer or two.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and, in a blow to town’s Western-style freedoms, the central authorities in Beijing in June imposed sweeping nationwide safety laws concentrating on political expression in response to large anti-government protests final 12 months. For Ma, the troubles meant it was time to shutter the enterprise for good.
Months of government-mandated bar closures as a part of coronavirus restrictions had pushed Membership 71’s funds deeper into the crimson, and working the bar not made monetary sense, she mentioned. The bar will shut on the finish of October.
“We’ve closed for 3 months, out of the previous six months,” mentioned Ma, who’s in her 60s. “For our enterprise, it’s unattainable.”
Social distancing restrictions have additionally halved the capability of town’s bars and eating places, making it tougher for them to show a revenue.
“Eating places are allowed to have 4 at one desk … however bars solely two per desk,” she mentioned, declaring that bars have been topic to a lot stricter restrictions, in comparison with eateries.
Within the final days of the bar, prospects have proven up in drive, gathering outdoors within the park and sometimes milling out and in as they order pints of beer. The colourful inside partitions are plastered with posters promoting artwork exhibitions and performances, in addition to pro-democracy paintings.
“This can be a place in Hong Kong the place folks can drop by and trade concepts, so long as everybody respects one another, they will say no matter they need,” mentioned Ma.
Information of the bar’s imminent closure was disappointing for a few of its regulars, who cherished the distinctive ambiance and the combination of individuals.
“There are only a few bars of this sort in Hong Kong. We name it the quiet bar, which permits folks to speak with one another,” mentioned Keung Fung, 41, one other loyal patron and a former Hong Kong scholar union consultant.
“It is rather unlucky (that the bar is closing),” he mentioned. “I’ll must search for one other bar with comparable ambiance.”
A few of Membership 71’s prospects additionally embrace former lawmaker and pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung, often called “Lengthy Hair” in Hong Kong. Leung had been an everyday in Membership 71’s predecessor, Membership 64.
Ma had additionally run Membership 64, earlier than a skyrocketing hire pressured her to maneuver to its present location in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan neighborhood. It was then that she renamed the bar to Membership 71.
“It’s a hub for everybody to attach and talk with one another, generally sit round and talk about what to do. So you possibly can say it’s a gathering level,” mentioned Leung, who had visited the bar for a beer.
Different well-known bargoers through the years included Hong Kong singer Denise Ho, who is thought for her pro-democracy stance, in addition to acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Doyle.
Though Ma is saddened at having to shut Membership 71, in some methods it’s also a aid, she mentioned.
“Financially, I actually couldn’t cling on,” she mentioned. “It’s time to maneuver on, I need to do one thing else.”
Related Press journalist Phoebe Lai contributed to this report.