By Hans Ebert
Around 10-15 years ago when still in the music industry and having recently split from my long suffering wife, our real offices were The Tiffin Lounge and the Champagne Bar at the Grand Hyatt. Living right next door to the hotel meant convenience if needing some different type of stress release during those Wolf Of Wall Street days when nothing was impossible and The Longest Cocktail Party was meant to continue forever.
These were the Days Of The Long Lunch and where I had “graduated” from the English pub scene of the Dicken’s Bar from my days in advertising to the five star lifestyle of being a senior music executive. And being part of this supposedly brave new world, we became legends in our own lunchtime.
We thought we were creating and owned everything and everyone. It meant starting lunch at around 1pm and being seated at our favourite table that expanded as the day grew long with artists, wannabe artists, flim flam men with virtual offices and everyone who wanted to flirt with the music business. And most of the time, we milked them dry with promises we knew we couldn’t keep.
These were the times to simply enjoy life and see who were worthy enough to come along for the ride. We truly had our heads up our collective asses. But we had the huge entertainment allowances, the opportunity to clock up air miles and all the company money and connections could buy. The Tiffin Lounge was the perfect first stop for the day before falling headfirst into the night ahead.
With a lunch buffet comprising Roast Beef, salads and more salads, an excellent Indian food section, sushi, sashimi, all manner of desserts and everything in between washed down by copious amounts of champagne, and always being very well taken care of by the excellent staff headed first by General Manager Mr Barker and then his successor Gordon Fuller and his team, The Long Lunch would last until 3pm before wheeled in would be the afternoon tea buffet.
By now, we had heard it all- deals had been closed, nothing and no one mattered and we stumbled down to the Champagne Bar around 6pm to meet with the usual suspects- the regulars, horse racing celebrities and movers and shakers for one reason or another, and the visiting celebrity. Women, they may come and they may go. And players love you when they’re playing. There were many players- male and female- and that door swung both ways.
After “playing” at the Champagne Bar until around 10pm, it was time for a quick trip upstairs to the hotel’s popular club JJ’s where “Uncle” Danny would always find us a table no matter how full the place was. There would be the regular bottle of Dom waiting for us. After that, it time to shop around to see who would be going home with us. And with the goings on at JJ’s and the Champagne Bar, no one left home empty handed.
Of course nothing lasts forever and it wasn’t long before everything changed mainly from the weight of excess and “the economy, stupid.” The long lunches took a back seat to survival and the Wolf Of Wall Street lost its bite until we find ourselves where we are today if still in Hong Kong. Many didn’t last the distance. They either went into free fall or knew their time was up.
Hong Kong is not what it was. The once trendy Lan Kwai Fong area is today a mosh pit of people aimlessly trying to find where to go as there’s really nothing around that’s very attractive. There’s no magnet. Lan Kwai Fong lost its mojo almost ten years ago.
Wanchai is deader than King Tut with bars like Amazonia, Escape, Neptune, HK Cafe etc propped up largely by ageing gweilos happy to pay for company and still able to take a very slow walk on the wild side, which is probably more on the mild side these days.
There’s “another” Wanchai happening, however, adjacent to the old school bar scene that attracts a more sophisticated crowd and where there are some stylish upmarket bars like Ophelia, below, with a very different clientele.
Today, it’s also about discovering the cool area of the new Sheung Wan with its always interesting French community. It’s also about checking out all the new restaurants that have transformed Kennedy Town.
SoHo is NoGo dead and the ‘live’ music “scene”, which was never something to factor in at any time before, is still inhabited by those who have been struggling to make it somewhere for over ten years. There are a spate of open mic sessions, and those who have started these should be commended. But knowing something about music should be a prerequisite, because, dear oh dear, how much amateur hour can one take before customers drop off to give their ears a rest?
Meanwhile, back at the Grand Hyatt, the Champagne Bar is on life support- empty and with some ‘live’ music from has-beens and never-beens. It’s been on life support for over ten years. No one pays five star prices to sit around feeling miserable when there are options like Stockton’s, Iron Fairies, Foxglove, and on Happy Wednesdays, Adrenaline at Happy Valley Racecourse.
This former meeting place for the city’s movers and shakers is DOA and desperately needs a facelift. It needs one name artist that suits the customer profile of the venue- a Richard Marx or a Michael McDonald or, if there’s a budget, Joss Stone or Norah Jones to perform there as part of a One Night Only series. Some might not know this, but this writer persuaded Miss Jones to perform at the hotel- a small intimate gig at JJ’s that became a Must Attend event.
From a long term point of view, look towards a new talent like Hannah’s Yard from the UK- younger and more smoothly cool than the names in the portfolios of local booking agents whose time has come and gone.
When are hotel Food and Beverage managers in Hong Kong going to listen to their customers? The Champagne Bar is more than ready for change. Now. Today, there’s absolutely nothing to attract a customer other than staring at a huge bill. The night we were there, a customer walked out when told his beer would be a cool $120.
Even the working girls are constantly doing the maths in their heads and give the place a wide berth unless there’s a big exhibition next door at the Convention Centre and when the bar might show signs of life and the song, “Hey, Big Spender” strikes up. If not, it’s waiting to listen to “Closing Time” and nodding off in the process.
The former Grand Hyatt Coffee Shop is now the recently refurbished Grand Cafe- packed during dinner time as Hong Kong can never get enough of buffets, but often needing better service. Sloppy service by trainees for five star prices cannot be tolerated.
Thankfully, the venue still serves the best Hainan Chicken Rice in town. But how much Hainan Chicken Rice can one eat in a month?
This week, after having closed down for months, The Tiffin Lounge reopened on an auspicious day- the start of the mid-autumn festival.
Everything starts with an International lunch buffet followed by a selection of Tiffin Lounge Tea Sets and then a Tiffin Lounge dinner buffet.
Response has been more than positive, and much has to do with many of us wanting to see the Grand Hyatt succeed. This is a hotel that is part of this city’s legacy. Legacies must be protected. And we want and need the Grand Hyatt to succeed.
People like myself have supported the hotel despite friends asking why- why when there are better and far more cost efficient and options? Yes, there are options, but more often than not, these have been opened by amateurs and marketed by amateurs.
The truth is that many are hobbyist restaurants and bars. The paying customer is the guinea pig who sometimes has to put up with some egos that are way outta whack. We’re there to support you, Einstein. We’re not there for the mediocre “bites” and a Seinfeld episode with the Nazi Chef.
The Grand Hyatt has the infrastructure and database to be much more than it is today and become part of the new Hong Kong.
With a new and much more approachable General Manager in place- Richard Greaves, below- staff are being moved around to improve service and new initiatives are being introduced to create a more interesting experience.
What’s now needed is for the hotel to be the one-stop venue that it was where people attract people and the Grand Hyatt attracted the best- not only financially solvent, but interesting people who were a magnet for like-minded people.
As has been said here often enough, venues need the right people to bring in more right people- people who complement the personality of the venue.
One can’t help but wonder what the personality of the Grand Hyatt is today. Once this has been decided, perhaps all the pieces will fit.
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