“Everywhere it’s the same. Business is bad except maybe for Friday”. It’s a familiar whine from many in Hong Kong running restaurant, bars and clubs.


Though the city’s nightlife has become one big desperate yawn compared to the good old days of the Eighties and Nighties where an everyday occurrence was to frequent hugely successful venues like everything from Canton and Manhattan to Lan Kwai Fong’s California, the Grand Hyatt’s JJ’s and the Champagne Bar, Beirut, Wyndham Street Thai, Post 1997, and the Lithuanian and Ukrainian magnets imported to attract married big spenders to China City and Club BBoss, why do some venues- Wagyu, Sevva, Stockton’s, The Blue Bar, Mott32 etc- manage to do consistently well, and others stutter and splutter and tank faster than the Titanic?


Take Lower Elgin Street in Soho, a short, dinghy street where the Chinese fusion restaurant Ho Lee Fook constantly attracts Hong Kong’s “style council” on a regular basis whereas the other eateries on the same street need bell ringers and circus barkers to try and pimp passersby to walk in even if it’s just for a drink and sheesha.


And why do some restaurants on Elgin and Staunton Street also in Soho seemingly do a roaring trade every day of the week whereas others look like rejects from the Lonely Planet?

Looks can be deceiving. Thirty people drinking two beers for two hours is hardly great business.


First things first: Ho Lee Fook serves consistently excellent cuisine and has that international and Eurasian Hip Factor. Some might describe the restaurant as being pretentious, but pretentious has always sold in Hong Kong.


The other restaurants and bars, no how hard they try, come across as second class citizens- and they are, because they’re run by minority groups. And unless living under a rock, xenophobia is alive and well in Hong Kong along with the city’s “style council” desperately needing to be accepted by the more senior members of this “council”, and allowed in to where these older tastemakers frequent. It’s that seen and scene herd mentality.


In Hong Kong, you’re not only judged by the company you keep, you’re judged by the places you eat. Superficial? Pretentious? You betcha- but it’s nothing new. It’s been intrinsically woven into the very fibre of Hong Kong lifestyle, especially its nightlife. It’s what always made getting a table at JJ’s such a big deal.


Getting that table at JJ’s, having management fawn upon seeing you and your playmates, ordering a bottle of Dom, and being high-fived by the resident “soul band”, often sold as being from NYC, but actually from somewhere in Canada, did much for your status. It impressed many, it got you laid, and it made those in charge of the door policies of the most popular venues in town minor celebrities. They had the power to let you through that velvet rope. It was all about that thing called Face. Of course, this still goes on today though the wealth is spread a great deal more, and the style council are not only spoilt for choice, they’re confused about where to be seen. Decisions, decisions.


When opening or running an F&B outlet in Hong Kong today, there’s a need for a reality check: One either swims with the guppies and tries to keep one’s head above water and are happy to even break even, or else throw that big hat in the ring, and with investors with money to burn, and some “name” front person for PR purposes, swim with the big fishes. Depending on one’s database and “friendships”, no matter how superficial this modus operandi might be, then see how far, and for how long the game can be played- a constantly evolving game where one’s business can go from being the talk of the town one day and fobbed off as being passé and finito the next.


News travels fast in Hong Kong- and in the dog-eat-dog F&B world, so many go to the Land Of A Thousand Dances when getting the whiff of bad news, which is often wrong information, but those dwelling on the negatives don’t care. They get high on talking about business failures as long as it’s not theirs.


A once well-known address is no longer a recipe for success. Look at how depressing Lan Kwai Fong and the LKF brand have become- once Hong Kong’s most trendy area and today a melting pot for stragglers with no spending power, and with all those side streets overrun by dodgy sheesha restaurants and late night bars run by groups of Pakistanis and Nepalese- and losers of all nationalities and high as kites looking to cause trouble for no reason other than that they have nothing better to do.



What type of customers do these joints attracts? Let’s just say that the neighbourhood 7-11 attracts a more upmarket clientele.


Same in Soho: Take away Ho Lee Fook and the handful of restaurants doing consistently good business, and the area’s most successful money earner are the neighbourhood’s 7-11.


The same thing applies to that ghost town that used to be the pumping and thumping Jaffe Road strip. Even the working girls look bored and tired along with Escape, The New Joe Bananas that has aged overnight, Insider and all the other loser clubs that have sprung up in the area. The most action is at the corner 7-11 whereas there’s always the affordable and consistently good food served at the unpretentious Cinta-J.


If been seen wandering down Wanchai or caught high as hell at Amazonia with a working girl from Makati squirming on your lap didn’t exactly further one’s image a few years ago, the area has an even bigger For Losers Only sign hanging over it these days.

Kowloon? Deader than dead with good old Knutsford Terrace soldiering on and clinging on for dear life. Having been there a few weeks ago- and leaving after one drink at some dive using a budget vodka in their cocktails- a group of us ended up at the only escort club in Hong Kong these days- Club De Hong Kong. Business was so dire, the Mamasan looking after us got steadily more and more drunk before telling us just how bad things were and then apologising for the quality of her ladies and the broken down karaoke system. This hour of depression cost us HK$8,000.


Bottom line: Hong Kong has always been about image and showing that one can keep up with the Chans, the Wongs and a hark back to the pomp and circumstance of this city’s colonial days. It’s all about show and tell, and with racism now alive and well in Hong Kong, it’s not about how good your business might be, but who you know and how you present yourself to others who either refuse to see their superficiality, or else revel in it.


Yes, Hong Kong has sadly become a Wankers Paradise, and it’s how and why one particular high profile American chef and restaurant owner known for his self-promotion can be exposed as a fraud many times over, and then lays low until the heat wears off, and returns with a new investor in tow and another “concept” restaurant.


A white skin and the gift of the gab still gets one very far in Hong Kong- in any industry. And all these local rookie politicians fighting for this and that, changing the Basic Law, and demanding independence and wishing to be seen as the New Hong Kong are the first to fall for this con- the first to be impressed. And once bitten by this bug, their inferiority complexes desperately needing to be accepted. It’s like Actress Sally Fields infamous Oscar acceptance speech where she gushed, “You love me! You really love me!”


Hong Kong is very much a city today that’s lost and suffering from an identity crisis. This confusion has affected its once vibrant nightlife, where other than dropping by the nearest 7-11 for some Oreos before heading home, the real highlight is being in your bed- by yourself- and watching whatever crap is blinking away on television.


Hans Ebert