By Hans Ebert
Huston might have had a problem, but these days, Hong Kong has, almost overnight, inherited or created for itself, one long and tedious problem involving so many things that it’s difficult to know where to start. Just having lunch at the newly-reopened Grand Hyatt Coffee Shop, or whatever it’s called in its latest incarnation after almost four months or refurbishing, was not easy to accept.
Having lived at the adjacent Convention Plaza Apartments for almost ten years when the comings and goings at Suite1616 would have made The Wolf Of Wall Street look like Peter Pan playing with Tinkerbelle, the Grand Hyatt was a second home.
Venues like the five-star hotel’s Champagne Bar, JJ’s and the Coffee Shop were hugely popular meeting places, where many of Hong Kong’s movers and shakers met, partied, and then partied even more.
It was the longest and most decadent cocktail party in the world fuelled by drugs, gorgeous live-in Lithuanian model girlfriends, a seemingly never-ending conga line of visiting actors, actresses, jockeys and others in Hong Kong’s Rock star racing world, and where the hotel’s Champagne Bar was always open for business.
Below at the bar is Brian of the hugely underrated British band Starsailor and champion Irish jockey Michael Kinane when both happened to be in Hong Kong- and the Champagne Bar- at the same time. It was a long night.
Working ladies from Eastern Europe and Mainland China became friends as did the staff and resident singers and their backing groups. These working ladies had no hesitation asking us regulars for advice regarding the tourists they were targeting at an average of HK$5k a pop and walked around with their portable credit card machines, sometimes doing their deals in full view of everyone.
Worldwide music companies held many of their conferences there, with one year, over $4million spent at the bar in one night. Did the Chairman of the company care? Maybe when he returned to London. That night he was a happy prisoner in the hands of two Aussie girls who knew what he wanted, and made around $50,000 for their bag of tricks of goodies whenever he was in town- which was often. We called him The King Of Pain.
Of course, nothing lasts forever, and ever since genial General Manager Gordon Fuller with great people skills, left for greener pastures and away from the headache of dealing with the local owner of the hotel who refused to pay to have anything done to make the hotel not look out of place in an episode of “Dynasty”, the Grand Hyatt has been on a steady Southward decline.
The Champagne Bar was finally refurbished last year, but no matter how much the venue might have been improved, even the world’s most expensive looking bar is nothing without the right mix of people.
Today, the Champagne Bar sits there like a white elephant with very few looking at it as anything special. An average lounge singer from somewhere in Latin America warbles some hackneyed MOR crowd favourites in the background like every other hotel lounge singer in Hong Kong’s five-star hotels, and the place is a convenient meeting place where no one with any sense of adventure will want to stick around listening to wannabe Gordon Gekko tourists talking loudly about million dollar business deals.
Little do these people know that we have sat there and listened to some of the best con men while chatting with everyone from Norah Jones and Bowie to Keanu Reeves, and ditching them to chat up a bevy of those long-legged Eastern European beauties who would walk in as part of Michel Adams’ FashionTV entourage, which always led to a night of decadence in his three suites in the hotel- and always the Presidential Suite.
Just as the Champagne Bar today is a mere shadow of it once was, and as ghosts of so many nights spent there dance across our minds, the newly renovated Coffee Shop is an exercise in a very poorly thought out venue where nothing really fits. Or works.
It certainly looks impressive enough when first walking in. Then, after being seated, there’s that sinking feeling that we should have gone somewhere else. All the parts just don’t fit. It’s like a weird jigsaw puzzle. What was tough to take, however, was having no one serve you for fifteen minutes unless, out of sheer frustration, one went walkies looking for someone to bring you a menu, shows the Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong being high on superficiality, but low on substance.
Back in the day, the USP of this Coffee Shop was its staff- experienced, friendly. They knew who you were and the millions spent in the hotel over the years. None of this brilliant staff is there anymore. They are said to have been replaced as “they” wanted complete change. “They”? In the place of all the familiar faces we knew, apart from a very few who seem to have escaped the cut, are gremlins with Learner plates on their backs and walking around in a daze. It’s Manuel Time, Mister Fawlty.
Gordon Fuller was very much a hands-on General Manager. So were his key executives. Who’s running this Ship Of Fools today? No idea. They’re nowhere to be seen. Either that, or they only come out at night, and only to be seen by those who attend the black tie events held in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom.
The group of us who ended up at this new Coffee Shop did so because it was convenient. And as former regulars of the hotel and the Coffee Shop, we returned for the venue’s famous Hainan Chicken Rice while wanting to catch up on what was and wasn’t happening with the world’s and Hong Kong’s music and entertainment industries. Or what’s left of them.
Like nearly everything about the Grand Hyatt, nothing is working- we even passed on the Hainan Chicken and made the mistake of ordering a bland Ma Bo Dao Foo- and no one is what they hope to be. It’s Fawlty Towers, Basil.
With most of us having worked with Universal Music, how we wished Lucian Grange, Chairman and CEO of the world’s largest music company, could have been a fly on the wall at this lunch. Then again, why would Lucian Grange care about the minuscule Asian and Greater China music markets?
What was heard over lunch were the same old mantras and news of who’s survived or won the usual game of musical chairs:
* The business in China is “improving”. But before artists get too excited, things are “improving” only for the music companies. Unless an established Chinese artist like a Jacky Cheung, be prepared to pick up the crumbs- if there are even any crumbs left.
*Where’s all the money gone? To streaming services, and overpaid and underwhelming music executives. Maybe some of these hires should think of running the Grand Hyatt if their gigs don’t last because there really is nothing much left in music companies despite all the bollocks about Madam Adele’s sales success reviving a comatose industry. The cupboards are bare and Old Mother Hubbard has cashed in and bought Greece- and the Rights to Grease. Don’t be fooled by shuck and jive.
*Music companies in this region have zero money to market their acts. Publishing companies are run by accountants. So, why have they signed these artists if they’re not prepared to market them?
* Appearing on China’s version of The Voice does nothing for the careers or bank balances of even the winners- similar to what happens in the U.S. The only recent winners there have been the gooey displays of public affection by those two judges on the rebound- Gwen Stefani and that country cornball Blake Shelton.
*As one senior music executive with us at lunch and based in LA who had inherited some acts from “American Idol” put it, “What did they expect me to do with some acts that weren’t good enough to be signed up years ago?” Fair enough. As for The Voice in China, Universal Music Hong Kong act Robynn and Kendy didn’t even reach the semi finals. The viewing public barely voted for them. Their recording career has apparently stalled. Surprised?
* If over 25, forget about making it in music as an artist. The thinking: If not signed by anyone by now, they have no future. But what if their lack of success is because no one’s heard of them? Ever.
* If starting up a music or management company, do this only if you have at least one artist that can make it as a K-Pop artist- and with the looks to be able to also become a television or movie star with sponsorship appeal.
*J-Pop is dead. Everything is focused on K-Pop.
* Jack Ma and Alibaba are expanding too quickly in Mainland China. There will be some changes made toute de suite to short-circuit too many Jack Ma success stories- and which are slowing down.
* Ageing Canto-Pop crooner Jacky Cheung will soon embark on a 50-concert tour of Mainland China sponsored by Universal Music.
* China will clampdown on concert tours of the Motherland by “foreign” music artists. The focus will be on promoting mainly “Made In China” talent.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. This was a strange and depressingly enlightening lunch. After chugging down an Energy Booster and trying to find a waiter or waitress to bring me the bill, I was outta there. I really needed a foot massage to relieve the tension. If Lucian Grange had heard what was not happening to this part of his company and in this part of the world, he would have joined me. And then immediately closed up shop.
Follow Hans Ebert on Twitter at @HansEbertHK