“I used to be the naughty one, in their eyes,” Gilbert Yeung, owner of some of Hong Kong’s most prominent nightclubs, including Dragon-i, Tazmania Ballroom and Cassio, tells me, speaking of the government officials who have been as much a part of his daily life as wild revellers are of his nights.
For the past year, Yeung, along with fellow entertainment magnates including Allan Zeman, the “father of Lan Kwai Fong”, has met with regulators every three weeks to discuss how and when the city can safely reopen its bars and nightclubs as the pandemic continues.
“The government usually looks at me, or people like me, and assumes I’m the bad guy. So to have this open dialogue, to have these conversations, has been a silver lining during Covid-19,” says Yeung. “Back in the Seventies and Eighties, club owners were often uneducated or part of Hong Kong’s underbelly, but it’s good for them to see that today’s operators are educated and civilised businesspeople looking to contribute to Hong Kong’s economy.”
Yeung is speaking from behind his desk. His office is perched on the 30th floor of The Centrium, which straddles Arbuthnot Road and Wyndham Street, the heart of Hong Kong nightlife, at least as far as Yeung is concerned. Through vast corner windows, a golden-hour glow lights up the smattering of skyscrapers behind him.
Around his office are artworks he’s collected over the years, along with photos of his family. He points to one of a young girl: “This is my niece. She made me promise to never take her photo down, even after my children were born,” says Yeung, who is a father of two, with a smile.
There’s also evidence of Yeung’s affinity for all things old-school, including a rotary DJ mixer sitting on the windowsill. “Old-school and analogue is coming back into fashion, you know?” he says.
The retro resurrection suits Yeung just fine, and he’s fully embraced the movement in his recent renovation of Cassio. Since it opened four years ago, Yeung and his team have been taking notes on what was, and wasn’t, working for the Wyndham Street hotspot. “We observe how people use the space: where do people smile? Where don’t people go? We wanted to reconfigure the venue so people feel a sense of intimacy with the space and the people behind it,” says Yeung.
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