It’s 11:30 a.m., and Matt Hermer’s voice is gravelly. For two straight nights, he has hosted VIPs at his newly opened, members-only night club, Boujis Hong Kong.
“Last night I was in bed by three,” Hermer says between sips of a cappuccino, suggesting that was a reasonable hour. For the founder of Boujis in London, whose hard-partying patrons include Prince William and Prince Harry, long hours come with the territory.
Dressed in jeans, gray trainers and a freshly laundered mauve shirt, the 41-year-old says “being married and getting older decreases my club-ability.” Still, he says “I need to go out and see it, and be in it.”
He’s hoping that Boujis in Hong Kong, which opened on Oct. 19, will generate the same kind of buzz that surrounds Boujis in London where it is a favorite haunt of celebrities (and the paparazzi who stalk them).
Boujis Hong Kong, which is about the same size as the London flagship, has longer hours, from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., while London starts serving at 10:30 p.m. Hermer is targeting an older crowd, setting the minimum age at 25 (London’s is 21).
“I’m told we are mad to do it but I’m sticking to my gut,” he says. “We are alienating ourselves from a demographic but I want this to be more grown-up, literally.”
Boujis yearly memberships cost HK$7,500 ($968), and numbers will be capped at 1,000. Hermer is working with an informal selection committee of movers and shakers to help him reach out to Hong Kong’s A-listers. So far, about 200 people signed up, including scions of some prominent Hong Kong families.
Still, the bulk of the applications have come from people in finance, whose numbers Hermer wants to control.
“I don’t want it to be a homogenized group,” he says. “There has to be art, design, fashion and bankers together.
“Because we are an international brand (BRND), Brit-stroke-Euro heavy in London, that is our reputation so by default I suspect there will be significantly more of that. But I want local Chinese and we will get that.”
Striking the right balance between publicity and privacy is tougher than when he started Boujis in London 10 years ago. “There was no such thing as a mobile phone with cameras, privacy was protected. In London we don’t call the paparazzi, we are quite discreet.”
The club deliberately plays up its British roots, with dark wood paneling, upholstered chairs with piping and a mock telephone booth. Brit-inspired dishes include Champagne-battered fish with parmesan chips and potted chicken with foie gras.
Drinks include an array of champagnes and Boujis’s signature drink, called “Crack Baby,” is a deceptively lethal cocktail of champagne, Chambord and vodka.
Hermer says it took him three years to find the right location in Hong Kong, where “rents wouldn’t cripple the business.”
He finally chose Pottinger Street in the heart of the Soho entertainment district. Rents were comparable to London, but it came with just a five-year fixed lease, compared to the London standard of 25 years. The new club has reciprocal rights with Boujis London.
Whisking stars in and out of tinted glass limousines isn’t an option in Hong Kong. Pottinger is paved with granite steps so clubbers must arrive on foot. (Publicity-shy patrons can, however, be snuck in a back door, Hermer says.)
Boujis Hong Kong has a handful of local investors together with Ignite Group where Hermer is chief executive officer. It’s Ignite’s ninth venture in a group which included Bumpkin restaurants and Eclipse cocktail bars.
Ignite had originally planned on opening its first Boujis outpost in Beijing with Lai Sun Development (488) chairman Peter Lam before the 2008 Olympics, which Hermer describes “as one of the best deals I never did.”
In retrospect, he says it would have been a tactically bad decision. “You go to Hong Kong and then build outwards which is what I want to do.”
He’s debating whether he should open his next Asian Boujis in Singapore or Shanghai, and hopes to have something in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai within the next 18 months.
Meanwhile, he says, “I’d be surprised if we don’t have more things in Hong Kong within the next year. I’d love to put a cocktail bar around here.”
(Frederik Balfour is a reporter-at-large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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