Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Where's the justice?

The bar next door to Salud abruptly closed at the end of last week, and the interior is now gutted in preparation for a new business to move in shortly.

I never knew what it was called; a sign appeared outside some time after it opened saying 'Odyssey', but I'm not sure that that was really supposed to be the 'English name' for it, and I don't suppose it bore any relation to the official Chinese name - whatever that was (I don't recall there being any sign over the door, even in Chinese). I never much liked the place; only went in the once, and didn't stay. I was resentful that it had displaced the shambolic but rather charming Salud-clone that had been there for the previous three years or so. I didn't care for most of the music they had there (they started off doing jazz, but soon migrated on to blank folk-pop, mostly sung by young Chinese girls more distinguished by their looks than their voices); but still, it wasn't terrible, and it was quite nice to see someone trying to do nightly shows that weren't the dreadfully tinny muzak of the old Guitar Bar or the karaoke caterwauling of that awful place two doors up where Mirch Marsala used to be.

But the really surprising, shocking, terrible thing about its sudden demise is..... it was doing OK. In fact, it appeared to be doing well. I would have said it was way the most successful of the last year or two's bar and restaurant openings on Nanluoguxiang, drawing good crowds every night. The plush but permanently deserted semi-basement bar next door and the nightmarishly awful Mirch replacement nearby must be dying by inches, but Odyssey - or whatever it was supposed to be called - appeared to be turning a profit.

But perhaps not - given the outrageous rents that most landlords along that street are demanding these days. It doesn't bode well for the survival of any bars or restaurants down there.  I very much fear that the few decent bars on that street - Reef, Salud, 12 Square Metres - will be forced out when their current leases are up.

In fact, I can see the entire street being killed off by the greed and stupidity of the landlords (and of the local government which is pushing its development as a 'tourist culture centre'). It is becoming unviable to run anything other than a snack-shop or an expensive boutique down there. And, the way the rents are going, I think even the most prosperous of those boutiques will soon prove unviable.

It's like a microcosm of the whole Chinese economy - and it doesn't fill me with optimism.

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