Thursday, November 26, 2015   

Just a song before I go

Winnie Chong

Friday, June 15, 2012

To be rich is glorious," so proclaimed paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

Taking a cue to traverse the golden highway, Law Cheuk quickly spotted an opportunity to promote his religion of urbanity - he wanted his customers to enjoy the finest wines and food in the company of the most beautiful women. Thus was Club Bboss born.

For Law the timing was spot on. In the 1980s and 90s, Hong Kong was a bustling entrepot for mainland products. As businessmen and tourists flooded into the territory, it was becoming apparent that Hong Kong came to be the preferred business and tourist destination in North Asia. And visiting a nightclub was on the itineraries of every tourist and businessman.

Club Bboss opened in December 1984. Law rented 70,000 square feet in New Mandarin Plaza Tsim Sha Tsui East and spent a whopping HK$90 million to renovate the premises that previously housed Club Volvo and Club Borubo.

To put things in perspective, in the early 80s, a 1,200 sq ft flat in Taikoo Shing cost only HK$780,000, and it came with seaviews.

To attract his well-heeled clientele Law left no stone unturned to make Club Bboss one of the world's top Japanese decor nightclubs.

The interior of Bboss is reminiscent of Versailles, and the mirrored hallway duplicates the ambience of top opera houses in Europe.

Besides a grand ballroom where guests could mingle, the club has 60 VIP suites, each with its own exquisite decor to offer top customers a relaxing solitude.

The club's facil
ities, which include a dance floor with mood lighting and music, pampered hordes of sybaritic guests numbering 1,200 every evening.

Sipping the finest wines and spirits and feasting on exotic food by gourmet chefs, customers were treated to cultural programs, which included mud wrestling, singing competitions and entertainment by top pop stars.

For the unslaked lust of hundreds of its customers, Club Bboss employed over 1,200 leggy blonde hostesses. They were attired in feather boas and colorful plumes, and were recruited from all over the world. Each hostess was specially trained to pamper the hedonistic pursuit of their guests.

Law knew only too well that pampering his guests is what would keep the cash registers ringing. It was a common enough sight to see a gold colored Rolls Royce fetch VIP patrons and take them to the club, while legions of ordinary mortals queued at the door for a table.

Top nightclub of world-class standard

One long-time customer of Club Bboss, surnamed Leung, said: "Club Bboss was a top nightclub of world- class standard. There were lots of local beautiful girls working as hostesses in the club."

Frequenting nightclubs was on every tourist's itinerary, and foreign as well as local businessmen threw open their wallets to indulge and entertain their clients either to clinch deals or do business.

Businessmen normally spent between HK$80,000 to HK$100,000 in the nightclub, a former manager revealed.

The manager, who requested anonymity, further said that if the hostesses were smart enough to help Hong Kong businessmen secure orders, they were handsomely tipped in the region of HK$10,000 or HK$20,000 - a small fortune in those days, given that hostesses only earned about HK$3,000 per month.

Boasting a bevy of beautiful girls enhanced a nightclub's reputation. It is reliably learnt that Law once spent HK$ 1 million to acquire his prized assets for the club, poaching many of his beauties from rivals.

Those were indeed heady days for Law, who is known as the King of Nightclubs.

The fortunes of Club Bboss were in sync with the economic boom of Hong Kong, attaining legendary status ever since it was founded a few days before the signing of Sino-British Joint Declaration.

The opening night of Club Bboss reflected the power and prestige of Law when the cognoscenti of Hong Kong - Ronald Li Fook-shiu, the then chairman of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Li Chuwen, deputy director of Hong Kong Xinhua News Agency and Wang Guangying, founder of the Everbright Group - attended.

Lau, at one time, tried to get Club Bboss listed on the bourse. But the Securities and Futures Commission did not approve the listing. He eventually decided not to pursue the listing due to the global stock market collapse in 1987.

Sadly, the glitz and glamor of Club Bboss is about to fade into the history books of Hong Kong's nightlife.

Club Bboss will down its shutters very shortly and go the way of other big nightclubs in the city, notably China Town, Tonnochy and Chinese Imperial Palace.

It could well be said that the decline of night clubs was reflected in the business fortunes of the SAR.

Since the 1990s, when Hong Kong factories migrated north, nightclubs began losing their most prized business clients. To boost numbers, Law shifted his focus from businessmen to tourists as a client group.

As part of his new marketing strategy, Law began to heavily promote his club in the inflight magazines of airlines and struck deals with tourist agencies to bring 400 tourists by coach to the club each night.

Adding to the decline of nightclubs in Hong Kong was the fierce competition from clubs in Macau and Shenzhen. The Macau operators, like their mainland counterparts, took the business of enticing and entertaining customers to a whole new level of sophistication by offering enticing packages - top-notch food and beverage, two hours of schmoozing with a hostess and two-way complimentary ferry tickets.

The cutthroat offers made by these nightclubs began to have a devastating impact on their more established rivals in the territory.

Further taking its toll were events such as 9/11, SARS, and avian flu, which collectively contributed to the financial woes of these clubs.

Recalling the heady days of Club Bboss a manager, who requested anonymity, got nostalgic when she said these days, even on Saturday nights, only about eight or nine of the 60 VIP rooms are occupied.

She said most clients are mainlanders with a sprinkling of Japanese. Not many locals frequented this once premier nightspot. From almost 1,200 hostesses in its heyday, the club's roster today features fewer than 30, almost all immigrants from the mainland, with only a quarter of them "beautiful."

This sad state of affairs is corroborated by an Eastweek reporter who frequented Club Bboss as a paying customer for a number of days.

Business was in the dumps, he said. On the nights he went there was just one customer in the huge club lounge - himself.

Only a solitary Filipino singer sang on stage with managers and hostesses chatting among themselves. He was asked to pay HK$500 for the privilege of sitting in the lounge for an hour, which included one drink.

When the business was really bad during SARS in 2003, Club Bboss reportedly invited a Russian music and dance ensemble to perform. It quickly proved a big hit with mainland tourists, who began visiting in droves because of a "HK$200 package" that comprised one drink and a one-hour show.

As the club's business fortunes further declined, the Russian ensemble was disbanded.

The deterioration in Club Bboss's fortunes can also be traced to Law's old school management style.

Beautiful hostesses

Leung, a textile magnate who frequented the club, said when Bboss was at its pinnacle, Law did not change its business model.

Leung also said that nightclubs in Hong Kong faced fierce competition from both Macau and the mainland. "Macau clubs offered a lot of gimmicks, which were perceived to be of better value than what Hong Kong clubs offered."

Also the fact that these days many mainland cities are home to bigger, higher-end nightclubs with top quality hostesses.

He said it is still a miracle that Club Bboss is still open having lost so many of its beautiful hostesses.

"If Law Cheuk had not spent HK$180 million on buying the property that houses Club Bboss and opted to rent instead, it would have closed much earlier."

The septuagenarian founder admitted that Bboss will close for good soon.

"Club Bboss is a good place. It is going to close down. I just want its closure to be a low-profile one. What I can say is that the current site will not be used as a nightclub anymore."

Cynics believe that if others can successfully operate a nightclub, Law will lose face.

Law said once the club closes, staff will be paid compensation for their contribution to the business. But he is keen to stress that the reason Club Bboss is closing is not because business is bad.

Sources indicate that Law, who is 71, does not have children and that is the reason that he wants to exit the nightclub business.

The source said Law has been looking for buyers or tenants but is not inclined to see others operate another nightclub at the same site.

They say sex makes strange bedfellows and forges unlikely alliances. As it was with Law who met his former wife Chan Kin-sum in a massage parlor.

Law migrated to Hong Kong when he was 21 and worked as a construction worker, living with his relatives.

His love life also makes interesting reading. When Law met his ex-wife Chan, who was six years older than him, she was already married and had four children.

But Chan wanted to be financially independent and worked at a massage parlor. It soon dawned on Law that there was more money to be made in operating dancing salons. He sold all the massage parlors to finance the operation of the nightclub in 1976.

In 1980s, Law and his wife rented the New Mandarin Plaza, which was in a relatively remote location at that time. They set up Big Bboss, which was the biggest nightclub in the territory.

In 1990s, Law, already extremely wealthy in his own right, believed the Chinese medicine market offered good prospects and bought the sole representation rights of the renowned medicine business - Beijing Tong Ren Tang.

Simultaneously, Law also got involved in the Guangzhou property market and constructed two high-end office buildings. The buildings are still wholly owned by him. Current estimates of Law's assets are in excess of HK$5 billion.

In 1991, Chan found that Law was having an intimate relationship with a secretary in his company. They finally divorced in 2002 and went to court in a move that ended with Law and Chan each getting HK$1.3 billion. Law got to own Club Big Bboss and the Guangzhou properties while Chan got Tong Ren Tang Hong Kong.

A rather sad indictment on the King of Nightclubs, whose BBoss Club once billed itself as the top Japanese nightclub in the world.

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