Travel: Chinatown of opportunities
How do you launch a successful burlesque club in the midst of a financial crisis? Sophie Loras spoke to Anna Patterson, the general manager of Shanghai’s CHINATOWN to find out.
Launching a new nightclub in Shanghai in the midst of a global financial crisis is not the most traditional way of dealing with an economic downturn, but for Australian Anna Patterson, there has been no looking back. The nightclub, Gosney & Kallman’s CHINATOWN, is the brainchild of British international entertainment veteran Norman Gosney and his dancer/actress wife, Amelia Kallman.
The club, which had its soft opening in September, is an emporium of New-York inspired stage shows, costumed showgirls and performances in an array of styles from Cabaret, Moulin Rouge, Neo- Vaudeville and Broadway to Classic Vegas.
Norman Gosney had been running shows in New York and Los Angeles for more than 20 years when he arrived in Shanghai two years ago with the idea to open the city’s first burlesque club. Having spent his first six months cycling around and looking at more than 50 venues, Gosney finally stumbled across a vacant 1930’s Buddhist temple in the city’s Hongkou district and “couldn’t let go of it.”
With venue found, it was then time for Australian Tim Clark, who had begun work for Gosney as a consultant (but would later become a partner), to secure the club’s investment. But as the financial crisis hit in late 2008, especially in the US where the venture had been hoping to source the majority of its financial backing, the project was put on hold for six months.
In Shanghai however, things remained buoyant and a new strategy was employed – finding investors in smaller lots. It was several months later, in the midst of the economic crisis, that Clark met with fellow Australian Anna Patterson at Shanghai’s decadent M1NT nightclub and where ‘one too many drinks’ would secure her a majority share in the CHINATOWN business as she signed an I.O.U. on a napkin. Patterson then left her job with an Australian event management company to become CHINATOWN’S full time general manager.
The past year has been hectic for the team – seven-day weeks and long hours into the night. But for Patterson there has been no looking back.
“Going to work is an absolute joy,” she says of the venture. “You just wouldn’t have the chance to work with someone like Norman ever again and it just blows my mind.” Patterson says Sydney will always be home for her in her heart but that China is where her future lies. Shanghai, she says, is the last bastion of opportunity.
“Why would I go home when there’s so much freedom to do what you want here?” She describes the CHINATOWN experience as a chic, sophisticated night out with great cocktails and ambience – taking its guests back to a Shanghai “that people imagined it to be – a return to the glamour and sophistication of the good old days.” The club can hold 250 seated guests, with standing room for 70 in the boxes. Guests sip on boutique Champagnes and sumptuous cocktails inspired by the club’s Australian bar manager George Nemec.
“People say the best time to start a business is during a recession – and I agree. People use it as an opportunity to adjust to change,” says Patterson of the club’s success.
“I never thought I’d have the gumption, the money and the confidence to pull it off. But to come here and be able to do it, get up in my own nightclub and sing – it is just a dream come true.” ■
* Gosney & Kallman’s CHINATOWN
471 Zhapu Lu, Hongkou, Shanghai