New secret opium themed den and oyster bar

DIFFERENT: Jason Whitelaw (right) at his new champagne and oyster bar Louis with bartender Karl Dixon. PHOTO: MARTIN HUNTER

Entering a dry cleaners shop and going through a clothing rack into a secret bar may sound like a scene out of a James Bond movie.

But it will soon be reality in Christchurch when Red Light District, a Chinese opium-themed den, opens early next month.

Businessman and developer Jason Whitelaw has just opened Louis, a champagne and oyster bar on Victoria St.

Red Light District will be in the same building, and is expected to open on June 8.

The $1 million bars have been more than a year in the making for Mr Whitelaw.

He had taken five trips to Australia and two to Hong Kong and China to gather ideas for them.

He said the key to success was having a point of difference and hard work.

“Some come into hospitality all starry-eyed expecting to have a great time and an easy lifestyle. They quickly learn that the late nights are not about parties and good times, but plain hard slog.

“I haven’t had a bar or anything for about 10 years now. I saw an opening in the market in Christchurch.”

Red Light District’s only access will be through a fully functioning dry cleaners
shop, Charlie Winston’s of Chelsea.

“This is an actual hidden secret bar. There’s no signage or anything like that. You’ll be pulling the rack of clothes apart and going through.”

Its focus will be on high-end cocktails, with a more Sydney vibe.

Many of the items in the bar had been sourced from Zhuhai in South China.

Louis, which opened on the weekend, is Melbourne-inspired, and offers 16 different types of champagne, craft seafood, with music by Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra playing.

It has a 1.5m diameter crystal chandelier, and is Louis XV-themed with mirrors and ornate

Both bars have the capacity of 100 people.

Mr Whitelaw said so far, the response to Louis had been really good.

“We’re pretty excited about Red Light District, and we’re excited about the response with Louis opening.”

Mr Whitelaw is no stranger to the industry.

He has worked at, built and owned bars in New Zealand, London and Australia.

When Mr Whitelaw worked for brewing company Scottish and Newcastle, he was a restaurant director for London restaurant pubs, including The Punch Bowl in Mayfair.

The Punch Bowl has since been owned by English film maker Guy Ritchie and his former wife Madonna, and was a popular spot among celebrities such as David Beckham, princes William and Harry and Jude Law.

When Mr Whitelaw worked there, regular visitors included actor Robert Wagner, Cliff Edwards and Nancy Sinatra, he said.

“It was pretty high-end.

“Princess Diana’s step-mother, Raine Spencer, used to live across the road, so we used to see Diana a bit.”

Mr Whitelaw is from Christchurch, and is also developing Flemington subdivision in Lincoln.

He said he does a lot of travel to Europe and is always on the look-out for the latest hospitality trends.

“You don’t want to blend into the crowd, you need to blend away. There are a lot of people doing the same or similar things, but you have to do it differently.’’