JOURNALISM

Prestige | The Good Life | Nightlife | MATT HERMER | September 2012

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BOUJIS NIGHTS

In the decade since it opened, London nightclub Boujis has been a consistent celebrity hotspot — and now it’s opening in Hong Kong. ALISON CATCHPOLE meets CEO and founder Matt Hermer at his Chelsea home.


LONDON'S BOUJIS Is a great night out. The dance floor is packed with leggy girls and well-dressed men, in understated Chanel rather than blingy designer garb. Champagne and vodka shots flow freely.

 

On my way in, for once swanning past the line of smartly dressed clubbing hopefuls, I’m reminded of a fairground house of fun by the double-mirrored entrance that leads the way to an intimate basement. The smooth and dedicated staff, a cosmopolitan bunch with names like Laurie, Harry and Patrice, seem to have an enviable rapport with the 2,000 individual members, who can only gain entrance after interview by a select committee.

 

And now, founder and CEO Matt Hermer is bringing his nightclub to Hong Kong’s Pottinger Street.

 

“I’m excited,” says Hermer when I meet him at his fashionable mews house in London’s Chelsea. “Hong Kong’s taken a while — it’s taken ages. I’ve been impatient to get it over, but there’s no point in opening something with the wrong economics. I’m lucky enough to be in this business; it’s a real vocation for me, because I love food and wine — that is my ultimate passion.”

 

The astute ex-banker looks surprisingly cool and fresh faced on one of the hottest days of the English summer, and certainly not like a typical party animal. His Ignite Group’s portfolio now includes three Eclipse bars (two in London and one in Barcelona), Boujis and a chain of restaurants called Bumpkin, so he has plenty of excuses to celebrate. Boujis is still very much the jewel in the group’s crown: recent initiatives include an event at Battersea Power Station in London, a Fashion Week party tie-in with Roberto Cavalli, a Bentley launch party and the nightclub’s annual summer event in Ibiza. The company seems as if it’s on a roll.

 

“Boujis Hong Kong is the culmination of a dream that I probably had at least three to four years ago. I have lots of friends in Hong Kong and in Asia generally. Hong Kong was invariably the hub at which to stop, and I loved it. Every time I’ve been, I’ve had a great experience, and I think I probably just love the vibrancy and excitement that all of Hong Kong has to offer.” But conquering the food and drink world is a notoriously difficult business, and Hermer talks animatedly about the diffculties including the antisocial hours and constant risk.


In 1998, Hermer was 26 and burning the candle at both ends as a highly paid banker, whiling away evenings at his local watering hole Barfly in the smart London district of Chelsea. He had spent time in New York, where the cocktail culture was already much more established, and he saw its potential. Then one drunken night he found Barfly was for sale and made enquiries. He remortgaged his house and six months later quit his City job to manage the newly named Eclipse, full-time.

 

“I’ve not had a master plan for anything, ever actually,” he says. “When I first got into
the business, it was just fun. I was running a cocktail bar in Walton Street while I was a banker, and it was really fun.” Realising his clients would like to go on to a nightclub, he set up Boujis, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this autumn.

 

“I’ve always said that I would only open one Boujis in the UK, and we’ve been looking at other areas, so ultimately Hong Kong has been a long time in waiting. It’s the first international Boujis. You’ll say to me, why Hong Kong? And I think I just like the idea. We’ve got a fairly good international clientele and I want people to jump off the plane and use Boujis as their go-to place.”

 

These days, Hermer can barely be said to be slowing down, but after marrying American PR Marissa Anschutz in the Hamptons outside New York in 2010, he’s necessarily had to do some multitasking. “You kind of get older...I got married and had a kid and you slow down a little bit. I can’t go to bed that late any more. Invariably I prefer to stay in now and cook or go out to restaurants rather than go out dancing till four in the morning because, you know, I’d like to kid myself I can still do it, and I probably can a little bit, but when my son is up at 6.30
screaming, it gets a little bit more painful.”

 

He’s candid about the Jack-of-all-trades approach to his business. “We moved into bars, into restaurants and into nightclubs, and there’s an argument for saying we probably should have concentrated on one thing and been a master of that that rather than learn lessons on the job about just how difficult and different the various products are. But now the business, like us, has grown up a little bit more.”

 

Bumpkin, the newest kid on the Ignite block, remains close to his heart — favoured as it was by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha before they moved into 10 Downing Street. It’s known for its locally sourced, hearty English food. “Bumpkin is our sort of sustainable British restaurant, which I love, and our aim is really to roll that out fairly aggressively in the next few years. To all intents and purposes it’s been pretty successful, so I would love to do one of those in Hong Kong. The idea of sourcing might be the only problem. In London, locally sourced might be within the M25 [the main motorway that encircles the city]; in Hong Kong it might have to mean sort of pan-Asia or Australia or something.”


Hermer is, unsurprisingly, somewhat in awe of the success of Soho House entrepreneur Nick Jones, whose ever-growing portfolio of private members’ clubs, already established in Europe and the US, are just entering the Asian market via Mumbai. “He’s great, just a sensational operator,” says Hermer, who has no trouble working alongside his potential competitors, and learning from them too.

 

“We have three main concepts; were rolling them out nationally and internationally, now at a distance of 6,000 miles, and there’s no point in doing all of that distance if you’re only doing one concept. My idea really is to work at it, make it work well in Hong Kong, learn a little bit on the ground and then expand outwards. So I would definitely like to open an Eclipse and possibly a Bumpkin in Hong Kong. It just does make sense for us to do that.

 

“It also makes sense to do more outlets, and Asia is very much at the forefront of our minds — again, to do the three together, perhaps in Shanghai or Singapore. And then probably somewhere in the Middle East; we have a fairly robust three-year plan.”

 

But how will the Hong Kong club compare with the original? “I want to build Boujis
using all the knowledge that I’ve gleaned and take it down a slightly different path, which is a bit more mature. It will be much more entertainment focused than London. That said, the concept is the same.

 

“Will people be buying champagne? I certainly hope so! Will they be drinking it and having a good time? I certainly hope so! But there will be a food offering, which there isn’t in London; the entertainment will be more grown-up. Also, London is a basement and this is not a basement, so you can actually design the space according to the actual product rather than the other way round. We have a 24-hour licence, which is almost impossible to get in the UK, but I doubt we'll open later than Sam or something.”

 

And as you’d expect, Hermer will be on hand to make sure it all works. “I’ll come out in September and make sure it gets done. Which is really hands-on for me but, you know, I love it, and if it’s not good enough for me, it’s certainly not good enough for the customer. So I go round with my piece of paper not just saying that’s not right but more, ‘Come on guys, this is how we want it to be.’ Because if I go to a nightclub, it’s how I ‘d want it to be.”

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