There is a brouhaha over at The Beijinger between Legation Quarter landlord HKC and the Aqua Group, which had been running restaurants Agua and Shiro Matsu and bars Hex and Fez at the upscale complex until all four closed about two weeks ago.
The Beijinger earlier posted a press release from Agua Group that stated (my highlights):
Legation Quarter Ltd. has consistently failed to meet its promises and commitments to us and the other tenants to maintain and manage Ch’ien Men 23 as Beijing’s premier fine dining complex resulting in damage to our businesses and day to day operations.
Legation Quarter Ltd’s behavior has reached the point where, among other things, they harass our operations by switching the power on and off at will. We are unable to operate in this hostile environment and as a result we deeply regret that we have no choice but to close our operations at Ch’ien Men 23 with immediate effect.
Today the site posted a press release from HKC that stated (my highlights):
It is regretful that Aqua has not paid its license fees to Legation Quarter Ltd. since late 2008, immediately after they had enjoyed the 16-week license-fee free period….
Aqua has nevertheless used Legation Quarter Ltd.’s premises to conduct business in its restaurants and bars for over a year, continuing to disregard our repeated requests to honor their obligations and pay the long overdue license fees….
In short, the closure of Aqua is due to its inability, or unwillingness, to pay the license fee for ‘Ch’ien Men 23’ and Legation Quarter Ltd. is now seeking legal advice in respect of Aqua’s irresponsible and untrue press release.”
I spoke to Lidia Sakarapani, sales and marketing director of Aqua Group, last week and she cited issues — ranging from electricity and infrastructure problems to major events held in the square that affected traffic flow to the the bars and restaurants — that disrupted business. She also said The Beijinger made minimal effort to contact her before running its intial story considering that a member of the magazine’s staff is the former PR person for Agua a former member of the magazine’s staff was a former PR person for Agua [see comments re this correction].
In any case, free rent helps to explain why some places at Legation Quarter have survived this long, not to mention in other spots around town (see Solana). If such places had to pay in full from day one, on top of their heavy staff costs, I think we would see much higher turnover.
Based on my experience and on talking to readers, the only place that seems to be consistently busy at Legation Quarter – aka Chi’enmen 23 – is Maison Boulud. I called GM Ignace LeCleir last week and he told me the restaurant has no plans to move. As for the Aqua Group, Sakarapani says it plans to be back in business in Beijing soon.