Path to enlightenment
He may be one of a handful of people to make Lan Kwai Fong the nightlife destination it is today, but don't expect to find Christian Rhomberg partying until the small hours.
'To be honest, clubbing has faded as my favourite pastime,' says the founder of the Ninety-Seven Group and KEE Private Members' Club. 'My interests are more in meeting interesting people and working with unique, creative companies in entertainment, lifestyle and luxury.'
Rhomberg, who came to Hong Kong in 1980 as deputy Austrian trade commissioner, has evolved from a creator of some legendary hot spots to a family man who balances business savvy with devout Buddhist practice. 'When I arrived, there were only a few foreign restaurant and bar concepts. Our offices were in Central and I saw the potential for an entertainment area nearby,' he says.
Rhomberg's Restaurant 97 opened in Lan Kwai Fong in 1982, followed a year later by Allan Zeman's California. While opening several more bars, clubs and restaurants in Hong Kong and Shanghai, the impresario and his wife Maria connected with a Tibetan monk who introduced them to the late Buddhist master Dilgo Khyentse.
'After five years of marriage and trials with all kinds of Chinese potions, we did not have children,' Rhomberg says. 'We met the master and nine months later our daughter Mara was born.'
After the birth of their second child, the couple took an eight-year sabbatical to travel and spend time with Buddhist masters in Tibet, Bhutan and India. After returning to Hong Kong, Rhomberg sold the Ninety-Seven Group in the late 1990s. But he was lured back into the business when Ronald Kam offered him space in the Yung Kee Building in 2000.
'I thought Sir David Tang had done a fantastic job with the China Club and my vision was to open a more European-themed club that included cultural activities and transformed on weekends into a pop-up nightclub, like throwing a party in your private home ,' Rhomberg explains.
KEE has since expanded to the luxury heritage site Twin Villas in Shanghai. More plans are in the works for a KEE country club and a string of 'club hotels' .
When KEE launched, it published a book imagining the day of the club's 10th anniversary. 'Looking back now, reality has far exceeded our wildest fantasies. KEE has been host to fantastic events, seen the most eclectic characters walk through its doors and become engraved in the collective memory of many of our friends from around the world,' Rhomberg says.
'This is a great watch for travelling and keeping time. It's elegant and sporty at the same time, timeless in design and fits perfectly to a suit, as well as casual wear on holiday.'
'The ultimate in watches and time-keeping and a great collector's investment too. It's a safe bet and a legacy to pass on to my son.'