Bar owners at Yongkang Road: closing our bars is unreasonable

By Qi Xijia Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/19 18:18:01

This road is a gathering point for expats in Shanghai. Photo: Qi Xijia/GT

Shanghai's notorious bar street Yongkang Road has been a gathering point for foreigners since 2010. Reports that the bars were all going to be shut down did not seem to have deterred customers on Sunday when the Global Times visited. The 50-meter east stretch packed with dozens of bars was as boisterous and busy as ever - although scaffolding had been erected over premises at the entrance to the street.

The Governor of Xuhui district, Bao Bingzhang said in a television interview with the Shanghai Media Group earlier this month that the bars along Yongkang Road must be removed because the government had never officially approved them. This followed years of complaints by residents living above and near the bars. Most of the complaints were about the noise and disturbance though some residents felt some of the bar renovations constituted fire and other hazards.

However, the bar owners the Global Times talked to said they did not know the government's plans.

Government inspectors

Li Zheng, the manager of Funk A Deli, said that they had been constantly threatened with closing since they opened their bar two years ago. "But this time it seems to be real and we have seen the mood of the government. Inspectors have come to the bars on the street to check the structures and take notes and I think this is the first move," Li said.

But he said that he had had no official information from the government. "There have been discussions among the bar owners with some saying all bars will be closed in July but others saying that it will only affect unlicensed premises," Li said.

He said his bar was licensed as a catering business but he admitted that they had changed the structure of the three-story wooden residential building. "We knocked down the wall between two shop fronts to make the space room bigger. Other slightly bigger bars have done the same thing," Li said.

Li said they had not decided whether they would move or reopen the bar as another type of business. "If we could we would like to stay here for at least it is an old street and has a good reputation. We all realize here that we have succeeded because we have been working together. We wouldn't be able to make it if we had to run the businesses on our own."

Beside Li's bar, Dirk Frauenheim, the owner of the Zapfler-German Craft Beer bar told the Global Times that they hadn't had any formal notification from the government, but media reports said that the bars would close.

Frauenheim's bar is small and he said they had not made any structural alterations. "If that is the problem, they should check the premises individually and not just say they will close everything. I don't understand it. If someone has made some illegal alterations they should redo this. But this doesn't apply to all the bars here," he said.

Dirk Frauenheim, the owner of the Zapfler-German Craft Beer bar Photo: Qi Xijia/GT

"I don't think it's a big problem because yesterday we had 700 people on the street and there are only a few people still living round here. It's like there are just two apartments above us. Compared with the number of people who come here and enjoy their time here very few people actually live here.

"We foreigners always think they are too, too serious. I sleep in a hotel nearby. Today is Sunday and in the morning they started construction work at six o'clock. We can't sleep. But nobody cares. I think closing the bars is unreasonable," Frauenheim said.

Lights out

Frauenheim said the bars switched off the outside lights at 10 pm and put all the tables inside. But there were also supermarkets which stayed open all night and where foreigners could buy beer and drink it outside.

"Maybe it's also a question of management. People living above us could get some compensation from the bar owners and go and live in another place and then maybe the problem would be solved. Everywhere here people are living. If we have to move to another place the problem will not be solved," Frauenheim said.

Most of the residents living above the bars are senior citizens who were born there or people from outside Shanghai who rent rooms there.

Mr Wang who has lived here for two years works on a night shift. He told the Global Times that every time he goes to work at 10 pm the street is so crowded he can hardly get through. On his days off, the noise, the shouting and the car horns mean he is kept awake even at 11 pm.

"It would be great if the bars were removed. We could sleep properly," Wang said.

Ni Guorong, a 60-somehting resident told the Global Times that on Saturdays he never got to sleep before 3 am. "There's loud music till midnight. Drunken customers sing noisily. I have to catch up on my sleep in the daytime," Ni said.

Expats sit in a bar at Yongkang Road. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Bomb shelters

Han Meng, a 55-year old who lives on the third floor above one of the bars told the Global Times her building had weak foundations. "There are bomb shelters beneath these buildings. The floor of our house is already sloping. The second floor was rented by the bar to store liquor. These are all wooden buildings and what could happen if there was a fire - I live in fear every day."

Han told the Global Times some of her neighbors had often argued with the bars. In 2013 some irate residents poured hot water on noisy customers to make them stop partying. After that the bars agreed to move chairs and tables inside after 10 pm. "But this didn't really change things," Han said.

Regulars at the bars have heard the rumors that the street will close. "I haven't seen it as a problem. It would be a problem if there was violence and aggression but the government had already asked the bars to move the chairs inside. In the past it was a wet market and the neighbors are used to the fact that it is a lively street. It would be sad if they are closing it because it is a meeting point for people in Shanghai. You meet a lot of interesting people here. You talk and exchange ideas. I can't find another place like this in Shanghai. But if this closes another one will probably open somewhere else. This is Shanghai. Everything changes," Hans, a customer from Germany, said.

"I come here once a week. I don't think it should be closed because it's nice here. We are not from China. Europe and other countries have places like this. I don't know where I would go. I would definitely miss it," Argentinian Pablo Asterix said.

Other customers were more optimistic. "There is nothing long term about Shanghai. There is rebuilding every 10 years anyhow so I just enjoy what I love. It's a street full of bars. I won't be that disappointed - you just move on somewhere else," said regular Philippe Holland.

Mingling and drinking

Da Long is an American and teaches Chinese in the US. He believes every big city should have a place people can get together to drink. "If Shanghai wants to be an international city they need places like this that offer a place for international people, people from different countries and cultures to come and mingle and drink together and meet each other because this is what every other international city has - Washington D.C., London, Tokyo, everywhere has one. Maybe it is not so good here because there are many residents around here. Maybe they can find a place with fewer residents. In America we have areas that are set aside as commercial, but this place is residential. In commercial areas you can have bars and restaurants, but in residential areas you can't. In China they don't have that. They need to figure it out."

He said Chinese and Westerners relax differently. "Americans, Europeans, Africans and Southeast Asians don't like going to KTV. You need to have a place if you want foreign talent to come here. You need places for international people to live and relax," Da Long said. "This is what we need. This is our lifestyle."

A staff member of Shanghai Paifeng Yongkang Business Management, the company that is in charge of renting and managing some of the stores on Yongkang road believes that the bars will not be closed.

"All the bars we manage have catering business licenses," she said.

Newspaper headline: Bye bye, bar street!

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, City Panorama

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