Curtain call for Hong Kong beach bars

Curtain call for Hong Kong beach bars

Beachside hangouts, like South Bay Beach Club, to lose unique charm due to a dozen noise complaints

South Bay Beach Club.The sun sets at South Bay Beach Club.

Hong Kong is due to lose some of its best beach bars under a new government plan to restrict opening hours and replace lounge chairs with fixed metal tables.

This winter, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) plans to revamp the fast-food, snack and restaurant kiosks at Southern District beaches. For the South Bay Beach Club, Lanai Beach Café at St. Stephen’s Beach and the Bauhinia Beach Club in Middle Bay, this spells an end to custom seating, decor and late-night beach parties.

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The move comes in response to noise complaints and concerns that the beach bars are not welcoming to the general public.

If you don’t have nice decor, it’s like a food court.

Kenneth Howe, owner of South Bay Beach Club

“In the past, we allowed the operators of the kiosks at southern beaches to use the public space outside their kiosks to set up seats for the convenience of beach goers as well as to enhance their business,” says LCSD spokeswoman Linda Cheng.

“This flexibility was given on the strict understanding that the space should still remain as a public area for free use by all.”

But some members of the public have said they were refused access to seating near the kiosks, and the loud music and DJ sets have annoyed some people who live near the beaches.

This year, 12 noise complaints have been made, compared to four complaints in 2010.

“We thus have no choice but to withdraw our consent given previously,” says Cheng.

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The LCSD’s new plan calls for seating that is bolted to the ground -- like in Hong Kong’s public parks -- and a focus on snack bars that close with the end of lifeguard services at 7 p.m. in the summer and 6 p.m. in the winter.

South Bay Beach ClubBig Wave Bay already has the government-approved fixed seating.

Kenneth Howe, who operates the three beach bars that would be affected, says members of the public have always been welcome to use the kiosk space, even if they don’t buy anything. He also says that the government’s plans will ruin the ambiance at some of Hong Kong’s most scenic beaches.

“Entrepreneurs and restaurateurs of the south side beaches shared a vision -- to bring these outdated, unrealized and underutilized kiosks up to world-class standards, to do their beautiful locations justice by framing them with fine food, decor and music,” he says.

“Now our dogmatic, visionless government shows no interest in reaching a sensible solution, choosing instead to clutter some our most beautiful public spaces with bolted-down, uncomfortable metal furniture resembling something in a prison yard.”

The future of South Bay, Middle Bay and St. Stephen’s beaches can already be seen in Shek O, where tiki-themed beach lounge Paradiso was closed down and replaced with park benches and metal picnic tables.

“It’s ugly,” says urban planner Pong Yuen-yee. “For beaches we cannot use the same kind of furniture we use in a park. The design should reflect the character of a place itself -- for a beach, it should be relaxing, it should match with the environment. Why do you have to fix the benches?”

The problem goes to the heart of public space design in Hong Kong, she says. “This is very typical of the LCSD -- they are afraid to do different things. If you go to a park, they tell you where to sit, where to play tai chi, where to stand and where to walk. They tell you what to do instead of letting you do things of your own will.”

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When it comes to public furniture, says Designing Hong Kong co-founder and Southern District councilor Paul Zimmerman, the LCSD seems more concerned with cutting costs than with creating great spaces.

“The design and management of public facilities such as kiosks and furniture at beaches and promenades is outdated, based on low-cost maintenance and management for the lowest denominator,” he says.

The LCSD says that deviating from standard furniture could be too risky.

“The furniture have to be properly installed for public safety,” says Linda Cheng. “Movable furniture is not entirely suitable in the environment of the beaches which is susceptible to strong wind and inclement weather. We are therefore installing fixed type of furniture that are less [prone] to theft and vandalism.”

Kenneth Howe doesn’t sound optimistic. “It kills what i was trying to achieve,” he says. “If you don’t have nice decor, it’s like a food court.”

What do you think about the government's new plans for Hong Kong beaches? Let us know in the comments box below.

South Bay Beach ClubMidsummer social evenings like this at Middle Bay may become a thing of the past.

Christopher DeWolf is a writer, photographer and self-styled flâneur.
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