To say that Pui O is packed with bars and restaurants (and bar-restaurants) would be overstatement but for such a small village there are a surprising number. That’s currently eight by our count: four local restaurants, three Western bar-restaurants (Tap Tap, The Water Buffalo and Treasure Island) and one bar (JK Club). The ongoing social distancing measures – and the total dine-in ban before it – have dealt a harsh blow to all these businesses but they’re hanging in there. Just.
Matthew Bradford, the friendly manager at Tap Tap, now clocks in from Friday to Sunday – he used to work five days a week before COVID-19 showed up. “When we had the lockdown for the evenings, the rest of the week died,” he says frankly.
Business has been bad, there’s no sugar-coating it, and Matthew draws attention to the disconnect that means a group of 10 people can sit on the MTR at 12am but only four can sit together in a restaurant at 10pm. “If that’s going to happen on the MTR then it needs to happen in bars and restaurants too,” he says, calling for measures that are “equal across the board.
“I think one of the biggest problems for any business is you’ve had a full-time team and then because of all the restrictions, you’ve had to lay off some staff, put some on unpaid leave, put some on part time,” Matthew adds. “The wage subsidy helps, to a certain extent, but it’s not enough.”
For the most part, Tap Tap continues to rely on its takeaway trade for survival, though Matthew says there are still a few locals who’ll “get off the bus after work and have a couple of drinks, and maybe a steak or a pizza.” The weekends are quiet too. Even Tap Tap’s loyal band of musicians has had to stop playing.
Yes, musicians. Rewind to the start of the year and you’ll find that Tap Tap was a seriously chilled little music venue, known for its rockin’ weekend jam sessions. Depending who was playing on any particular night, you could get a loose improvisational jam, or songs from across the spectrum of modern music. The official home of local musicians’ collective The Swamp (previously The Ad Hocs), Tap Tap also regularly hosted Pui O rockers The Banded Kraits.
The good times need to roll again. Matthew, a Lantau resident of 10 years, believes the government should relax existing distancing measures so that businesses can get back on track. He emphasises the need to “carry on, being careful with each other,” while taking a practical approach.
“This pandemic has reinforced the lessons that we learnt in SARS, so we all know how to work with common sense,” he adds.
Ask Matthew what new lessons the pandemic has taught him and he highlights two things. First, he’s worked out what he wants. If he won the Mark Six, he’d like to own a “cheap, cheerful, local” restaurant – someplace simple without Michelin-stars or massive overheads. Second, he’s feeling more connected. “I think lots of us have a greater sense of unity than we’ve ever had before,” he says. “The good that’s come out of it is solidarity.”
JK Club, 2984 0220
Tap Tap Bar & Restaurant, 2015 0903
The Water Buffalo, 2109 3331
Treasure Island Group, 5236 7016