Guerilla tactics

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 December, 2006, 12:00am

First came guerilla gardening, the act of turning up at night and planting vegetables and flower gardens in rundown public green spaces. Then came 'guerilla knitting', where young women took over trendy bars and posh hotel tearooms for knitting sessions. This Christmas has seen two rather odd developments - guerilla dining and guerilla retailing.

Down among the usual tasteless Christmas fare on Oxford Street, London's main shopping area, sits 'Santa's Grotto' - an empty shop unit where the retailers are squatting for just three weeks before Christmas.

The 'shop' apparently made GBP300,000 (HK$4.56 million) in its first week. That is mainly due to the fact that it is not selling the usual gaudy Christmas goods. Instead there is art for sale; to be more precise, anti-consumer, anti-Christmas art, by the infamous graffiti artist Banksy and the website Poster on Walls. By the time you read this, the shop will be gone.

So, too, will a guerilla restaurant, The Reindeer, which was set up for only one month on Brick Lane in east London. Run by the trendy restaurant/cabaret house Bistroteque, the Reindeer is offering five-star dining and cabaret in distinctly one-star surroundings. The interior is unpainted chipboard, for one thing.

The food is, by all accounts, excellent; the service professional; and the experience of dining in a temporary unit, according to the reviews, spectacular. The 'event' has been a riotous success, booked solid for lunch and dinner.

Such activities are not new; stealth marketing has been with us for many years, but the technique is gaining momentum and credence, with top companies using it to attract jaded consumers with maverick stunts.

Nowhere has this jadedness been more prevalent than in bars. Denied the excitement gained from an after-hours 'lock-in', extended opening hours and the explosion of corporate, crowded and expensive bars have led to a rash of temporary, illegal 'bandit bars'.

London has always had dark and dank drinkers' dens, but the venues have gone upmarket. Details of the unlicensed venues are spread via the Myspace website, e-mail or text messages on the day, thus keeping ahead of the authorities, and luring punters with the buzz of secrecy.

As soon as they get too popular, the bars move on. The infamous Thursday Club moved every week. Now it's the Wednesday Club.

The pioneer? A chap called Gary, whose 'Gary's Place' boasted expensive interiors, supermodels, pop stars and TV celebrities. When the A-list flooded his loft, he moved. He has since moved three times, each time after failing to keep it quiet. Tired of moving, he went legitimate, and is now featured in the premier listings guide, Time Out. Now that's novel.