An exciting megaclub in downtown Shanghai promised to be different when it held its soft opening in June. Club Angel was featured in the Time Out Shanghai magazine and its popularity also spread quickly via word-of-mouth. A boys’ club being discussed among the gay girls means one thing – even the women want to elbow their way past the swarm of sweaty bodies in a nightspot surely to be jammed packed with mostly men.
In the thick of the buzz, the 800-square-metre club at Wulumuqi, near Hengshan Road, announced it would be closed temporarily from July 28 until further notice.
Owner Ricky Lu, who is behind the now-defunct Pinkhome club, told Fridae he was in discussions with the authorities over licensing issues and hopes the club may re-open in a month. The bar had received an “environmental license” and still needed to navigate around other rule and regulations, he said, without elaborating.
“Soft” launches are mysterious periods of time when friends and old-patrons come by because licenses are not fully granted or an establishment has not passed food and safety inspections or arranged for payment facilities. It may also be a period when rules and regulations are being negotiated. Some bars and restaurants continue to operate in this halfway zone for months.
Local media suggested that the Shanghai authorities had received a barrage of complaints about the new venue. There were claims of sexual and pornographic activities at the club.
Club Angel denied this in an announcement online branding the accusations “an attack on the gay community.” The bar uploaded video clips and photos on its official microblog on Weibo, China’s Twitter, to prove it was just like any other bar. The club had also reportedly stated that they had enough reasons to believe the complaints originated from competitors – other gay clubs in town.
A government official was quoted by the Shanghai Daily, a state-run English language newspaper, saying the closure of Club Angel had nothing to do with it being a gay venue.
“The club was temporarily closed because it illegally started trial operations without a business license. The crackdown had nothing to do with discrimination against the gay community,” said an official with the Xuhui Cultural Law Enforcement Team. “When it has all the necessary and legal licenses and permissions, it may be reopened again.”
But on the web, netizens voiced their concerns about what the shutdown could mean for the future of openly gay venues in the city. Q Bar, a popular gay bar near the famous Bund on Shanghai’s revitalised waterfront, was raided in April and remains closed.
“Even if the gay pubs have been allowed to open, the supervising authorities can shut them down at any time by finding problems with safety issues,” said a blogger, nicknamed Xili, nothing that gay venues were always being watched by the authorities.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1997 and officially removed from a list of mental disorders in 2001 but remains largely invisible in China.
J.W. Ken is a poet and freelance journalist who travels the globe writing, and is now in Shanghai.