HK bars and restaurants suffer after turbulent 2019

Months of protest, a decline in tourist numbers and economic recession have all added up to a brutal winter for Hong Kong retailers, hotels, restaurants and bars. October and November 2019 were the two months with the steepest plunge of retail sales on the city’s record – service industry is not getting any better and several prominent bars and restaurants have made the decision to close their doors.

Entering the new year, Hemingway-themed bar The Sea announced it was closing up shop.

Opened in March 2019, the bar is the sister venue of The Old Man, which nabbed the top spot in Asia’s 50 Best Bars in May 2019.

Agung Prabowo, James Tamang and Roman Ghale pursued their second venture in Hong Kong as a continuation on the theme of Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel The Old Man and the Sea. Prior to that, the trio also brought The Old Man to Singapore, where an outlet was opened in February 2019.

Elsewhere, wine bar Cé La Vi Hong Kong made its last new year countdown before ceasing trading in 2020. Opened four years ago the bar had been one of the best rooftop bars in Central. However, the brand expanded aggressively in Asia last year. Within a year, the owners opened branches in Taipei, Shanghai and Tokyo. In the coming months, Dubai will be added to that list.

The Hong Kong branch of New York’s most celebrated speakeasy Employees Only shut its doors during the height of the most challenging period in September 2019, despite a prime location in the famous party district Lan Kwai Fong. Local speakeasy bar Mrs. Pound closed around the same time.

For restaurants, business is suffering equally hard. Among the restaurant closures in recent months are: Flying Elk, a diner helmed by three-star Michelin Swedish chef Björn Frantzén, Happy Paradise, a fusion Cantonese eatery created by Asia’s best female chef 2017 May Chow and à nu retrouvez-vous, another Michelin-starred Japanese-French fine dining restaurant from Tokyo.

The political movement led to social turbulence and transport chaos in the latter stages of 2019 and as well as affecting tourism, it also made local residents less likely to go out, which had a huge impact on standalone restaurants and bars.

In November 2019, The Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants & Related Trades cast a pessimistic outlook for the F&B industry and expected there will be more closures after Chinese New Year if the situation continues.

Nonetheless, the Hong Kong Tourism Board has recently launched a branding campaign named “Hong Kong is ON” to stimulate tourism. The campaign showcases a bundle of deals ranging from flights, hotels, restaurant to attractions.

At the same time, there are exciting new openings in the beginning of the new year as well.

This is definitely not an easy time. As the saying goes, crisis creates opportunities, hopefully the industry can stand strong and weather the storm.

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