Newcastle nightclub takeover talks under way after venue shut down amid 'poor management' claims

Chinawhite at the old Assembly Rooms in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
-Credit: (Image: ChronicleLive)

A potential buyer may have been found for a Newcastle nightclub that was shut down following a major clash with city officials – but its future remains uncertain.

Chinawhite, located in the former Assembly Rooms, ceased trading in March after coming under threat of being stripped of its licence. Newcastle City Council and Northumbria Police aired major concerns about a string of incidents at the Fenkle Street club – including reports of fights and alleged druggings in and around the premises.

A hearing into whether Chinawhite’s licence will be revoked was postponed in March after the decision to voluntarily shut its doors, in the hope that a new operator could be found to offer clarity on the site’s future, but resumed on Tuesday morning without a deal having been secured for someone to take over from current operator Lykos Leisure. Barrister Charles Holland, representing Lykos Leisure at a hearing of the council’s licensing sub-committee, revealed that there had been a breakthrough last week that saw a potential, unnamed buyer found for the club – though those talks remain at an “early stage”.

Local authority bosses launched a bid last year to get Chinawhite’s licence pulled. Evidence has been presented highlighting dozens of episodes since January 2022 that included assaults, thefts, alleged spikings and druggings, and a non-fatal strangulation.

There were also complaints of illegal vapes being sold in the club’s toilets, social media adverts for the club featuring scantily-clad women, and news cuttings about incidents such as a fight in which Newcastle United footballer Jamaal Lascelles and his younger brother were allegedly attacked after having left Chinawhite. Managing director James Spallone has previously apologised for the “mistakes” made at the club, which also operates in London and Manchester, but argued that its situation was “far from unsalvageable”.

However, Mr Holland told councillors on Tuesday that Lykos had “no intention” of trading from the venue again. While he did not challenge evidence from the council and police, Mr Holland argued for the licence not to be revoked – saying that it would be better to preserve it for a future operator to take over.

He instead proposed that the committee impose a condition mandating that the club could not reopen until a new application to vary the licence was made and approved, with the intention that it would be by a different operator, detailing the steps taken to address the previous concerns about Chinawhite’s operation.

Chinawhite at the old Assembly Rooms in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Chinawhite at the old Assembly Rooms in Newcastle Upon Tyne. -Credit:ChronicleLive

Council licensing boss Jonathan Bryce was scathing about Chinawhite – accusing bosses of “poor management” and a lack of supervisory control, as well as a “crude” marketing approach which “exacerbated the poor and distasteful operating style of the premises”.

However, he agreed with Mr Holland’s suggestion. Mr Bryce argued that the club was “very much capable” of being reopened under “suitable and sustainable” and that to revoke its licence now, after it has already been shut for several months, would not be a “proportionate response”.

Northumbria Police, on the other hand, urged the committee of three councillors to strip the venue of its licence. Police solicitor Hayley Hebb said that the long list of incidents at Chinawhite were a serious matter that had not been given a “real examination” to determine what went wrong, as a result of the club being shut down and put up for sale.

She argued that the committee would be taking “almost a shot in the dark” by hoping for a new owner to come in and resolve the issues. Mr Holland countered that Tuesday’s hearing was “not some sort of public inquiry” and was not there to dole out punishment, rather to find a means of positively promoting the city’s licensing objectives.

He admitted that there would be nothing to technically stop Lykos transferring Chinawhite’s licence to another entity linked to itself or Mr Spallone and then reapplying to reopen the site, but indicated that such a move would be unlikely as it would be a “matter of some concern, putting it mildly” for the city’s authorities and would become a “battleground” if that were to happen. A decision is expected to be issued later this week confirming the committee’s decision.