Wealth Blog

Tyler Brule lights up the crowd

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 May, 2013, 12:00am

I’d never heard of Salon No 10 before, but that’s hardly surprising since Lan Kwai Fong – which as an area seems to move inexorably south – is not my habitat. Salon No 10 lurks behind a solid uninviting door on the ground floor at Number 10 Arbuthnot Road.

The kind of door that suggests you’re only allowed in if the beefy person behind it already knows you. That this was a happening place went without saying, because the invitation was from the global king of cool Tyler Brule.

He who was recently described as a “foreign correspondent turned international aesthete and magazine impresario, whose hyper-curated Monocle empire now includes cafes in London and Tokyo, five retail outposts and a 24-hour radio station.” Not bad for a former hack turned publisher and shopkeeper. Like chefs, most journalists make lousy entrepreneurs, but Tyler’s the exception that proves the rule.  

The FT Weekend columnist was nipping through town enroute to Tokyo, his favourite place. He likes Hong Kong and his eponymous Monocle shop in the trendy Star Street enclave above Queen’s Road East that does very well, mainly due to the brand’s physical absence in China.

But back to No 10. What was this place? 

Described as a “glamorous bar with a very old school gentleman's club feel,” think Jules Verne. You can hire it for private parties on Saturday nights. Otherwise it’s a late night 7pm to 2am bar, but you’d definitely not stumble in unless you knew it was there. And you can smoke, yes smoke, inside the bar area. Or at least lots of people were standing there, fag in hand, whether allowed to or not.

The smoking laws are first and foremost workplace legislation, designed to protect staff, so presumably it sneaks in under some fuzzy bit of the members’ club rule caveat if there are no staff present or food being served. People did seem to be getting their own drinks. Cigar divans somehow sneak round the legislation too, because they are classified as clubs. But that doesn’t work for every club and it didn’t work for the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. And there was food at no 10. So who knows.  

Mixed reactions

It reminded me just how long it’s been since smoking was normal and no one blinked if you lit up inches from their face. Not anymore. As some of the exclusive guest list, which had been plucked from Tyler’s 2,500 Monocle Hong Kong subscribers, fanned out and started to puff, grumbles erupted.

I was nostalgically enjoying that old familiar smell, which has vanished forever from most bars, when there were indignant exclamations: “EXCUSE ME!” and “Do you HAVE to do that?” Oh dear. Whatever happened to live and let live and tolerance? I’m sure the non-smokers didn’t protest that much back in the bad old smoking days. Intriguingly, the smokers just moved slightly away and carried on, delighted to be able to smoke and drink at the same time without getting wet or roasted.

Not surprisingly, the number of women lighting up outnumbered the men. And the brands have changed. Seems if you are going to be a posh but stylish pariah, you smoke cool fags. Elegant packs of Dunhills and Davidoffs and slim menthol brands emerged from designer handbags and were passed around.

It seems now smokers are an endangered sport, to hell with expense. There was quite a frisson as the crowd migrated into the happy puffers, the disapproving huffers and those who usually smoke, but didn’t feel quite comfortable doing so. How times have changed. I have no idea if it was legal or not, but well done Tyler (who did not indulge). His street party in February gave his Hong Kong followers something to talk about. This time it was tobacco.