Hong Kong Bar closed because it was 'too crazy'

The lease for the Hong Kong Bar in downtown Ashland is up for sale after the owner walked away last month.

Chris Hart ended his lease with longtime restaurateur Beasy McMillan the first week of August. McMillan, who hired Hart at age 16 when he opened Macaroni's on the plaza, said there were no hard feelings between the two.

"The bottom line is I went up there and Chris gave me the key," McMillan said.

Several attempts to reach Hart for comment were unsuccessful.

The Hong Kong Bar was at 23 N. Main St., on the third floor of the historic Ashland Masonic Lodge building. Building owner Allan Sandler said the Hong Kong Bar "closed for what it was, it was too crazy."

The bar had drawn media attention in recent months in its efforts to control an increasingly aggressive crowd.

On July 18, a private security guard hired by the Hong Kong used a stun gun on a patron. No charges were filed, but the incident prompted a discussion among City Council members over whether Taser use should be monitored in Ashland.

Sandler said holes had been punched in the walls and there was general property damage in the bar.

"Why would people go in and break windows?" Sandler said, remembering an incident last year when a man punched out a window in the bar.

"We gave them some time, they are really nice people," Sandler said. "I don't understand the outright damage."

Sam Wong owns the building next door and said he, too, noticed the rise in damage and noise.

"There's no unhappy feelings," Sandler said. "We didn't make him quit. He (Hart) was tired of it."

McMillan said he plans on selling the lease, but may in the meantime bring back China Town, an upscale Chinese restaurant he ran at the same location before Hart took over the lease nearly four years ago.

McMillan, who has owned 19 restaurants in Ashland, said he's seen a downward trend in the market, making the restaurant business harder to keep profitable.

"The last three years have been tough on everyone," McMillan said.

McMillan called 2007 the "banner year" for tourism in Ashland. The Department of Commerce also reported record highs for the tourism industry in the United States for 2007.

According to McMillan, this year is better than last year, but adds that "it's all relative."

He said that 20 percent more people have come out to eat this summer than last summer, but they are not spending as much money. He predicts that it won't get better until 2013.

"It's like starting over," he said.

Reach reporter Johanna Thompson at 541-482-3456, ext. 225.

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