BOOK forewords allow authors to make their apologies as their readers stand on the abyss of the main text - making amends for faults, real and imagined, and generally warning readers they may not like all they are going to read. Liam Fitzpatrick, former employee of the Lan Kwai Fong Tenants' Association and author of the new 'official' history of the 1997 group, Rats Liked It Well Enough - The 1997 Story gets his measure of self-justification in when he writes: 'But if it all seems a little affected at times, you can forgive me. Because, as Nichole Garnaut once said: 'Liam, if we can't be full on in this town, who the hell can?'' To be published on October 6, Rats Liked It Well Enough - to be published on October 6 - is the history of the many permutations of restaurants, nightclubs, cafes and events that have carried the 1997 group's moniker since the original eatery, called simply 1997, opened in the shabby surroundings of an L-shaped road known as Lan Kwai Fong in December 1982. The book's strange title is taken from an article about Lan Kwai Fong written many years ago by Judy Logan. It is a subjective, sometimes florid record of a creation Fitzpatrick believes helped to redefine Hong Kong's social life; the 1997 group opened a series of bars, clubs and restaurants that ended the belief that as far as nightlife and restaurants were concerned, there was little in Hong Kong worth getting excited about. It is lavishly illustrated from a stock of 3,000 photographs assembled by Ms Garnaut and her partner, 1997 group founder Christian Rhomberg, and their customers. Eleven years on, the group is something of an institution. The description is one which would make the people behind Post 97, Mecca and Club 97 recoil, but the fact is that after more than a decade in business, the firm is one of the longest-running providers of entertainment in a town where the life of a nightspot can be measured in nanoseconds. Hot Gossip, Canton, Peace Cafe, Pastels, Disco Disco, Brown Sugar and Scotties have all gone down the road of redesigns, relaunches and, in many cases, receivership. Ms Garnaut reckons the three Lan Kwai Fong establishments she presides over with Mr Rhomberg have changed their identity 12 times in the past 11 years, an illustration of her belief that you have to stay ahead of the pack - when everyone else starts catching up, you have to change. The genesis of Rats Liked It Well Enough was Ms Garnaut's idea to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the company last year, a celebration crowned by the modestly-titled 'Mother of all Parties' for 2,000 people at the Lai Chi Kok amusement park in November 1992. Marking the anniversary with a more tangible gesture was harder. 'The more we looked into it, the more we thought that if we were going to spend all this time, effort and money on something, it ought to be done right, which is why we did not produce the book last year,' Ms Garnaut said. Politely, but firmly, she refused to comment on the suggestion that it would have been difficult to publish the book earlier because the New Year tragedy in Lan Kwai Fong, in which 21 people were crushed to death, was still fresh in people's minds. Other indications from the group, however, bear this theory out. Rats Liked It Well Enough is a loose history of Hong Kong's nightlife from the late '70s on, of the people who helped create 1997 and of the social context in which the firm developed.In his foreword, Fitzpatrick tries to explain the impact the original 1997 had when it opened in 1982. 'It's hard to imagine now how parochial Hong Kong was just 10 years ago,' writes Fitzpatrick, who has lived in the territory most of his life. For him and anyone in the same age group, 1997 conjured up images 'of smooth, cappuccino exotica and baggy-trousered Harper's Bazaar readers, mineral water with twists of lemon and New Romantic records. 'All of a sudden, the humid nights spent outside Tsim Sha Tsui pubs, whistling Clash tunes and clutching bottles of Boone's Apple Wine from the 7-Eleven didn't quite cut it anymore. 1997 meant style, and in 1982, style was a commodity that didn't exist anywhere else.' Hong Kong style, as defined by Fitzpatrick for 1982, was espresso coffee, apple crumble and French cigarettes smoked to the music of Sade. This was just after five young partners had opened Club 1997 in Lan Kwai Fong with a name whose 'fatalistic connotations and attendant images of sipping cappuccino while Hong Kong burned . . . gained [it] overnight notoriety'. If it could be bottled, the essence of 1997's success would doubtless sell in the same quantities as Vitasoy. But the exact recipe is unlikely tobe repeated. What is clear is that the firm's ascent came on the back of several factors. One was the influx of Western and Western-educated people taking well-paid jobs in Hong Kong's burgeoning financial sector, becoming a ready-made clientele to complement wannabe urban sophisticates like Fitzpatrick. These previously disenfranchised, and mainly Western expatriate twentysomethings, threw themselves into the new nightspot with free-spending gusto. Or, as Fitzpatrick writes: 'Money. Here it is, being thrown around the room. There it goes, borne aloft in the form of a tray of Dom by an arrogant waitress, just in from London with a major case of Attitude.' In a city that craves novelty, 1997 was new and exciting. Lan Kwai Fong was new and exciting. There was something faintly dangerous about going to a European-style cafe in a louche area of rubbish tips, godowns and flower sellers to drink cappuccino and listen to New Order. And yet it soon started to go badly wrong. Within a few months the jeunesse dore were defecting to Dick Kaufman's California down the road, having decided 1997's sometimes shambolic approach to running an eatery was not to their taste. It was at this point, in 1985, that Ms Garnaut entered the picture. Mr Rhomberg responded to the drop in business by hiring her as a chef. He also hired Ms Garnaut's fellow Australian Greg Malouf to head Restaurant 97, with its stripped pine floors, subdued lighting and wall murals. Hong Kong's chuppies and yuppies were streaming into Lan Kwai Fong for Restaurant 97, Club 97 and other new venues sprouting in the area - Hardy's, Mad Dogs and the long-closed Niteskool, which offered mild S&M titillation by waitresses in academic gowns or gymslips for former public schoolboys seeking a nostalgic fix of la vie anglaise. The proliferation of outlets that resulted from the foothold gained by 1997 was attractive to clubbers. The venues were new, far less stuffy than their hotel equivalents and, in those far off days when rents were a fifth of what they are now, much cheaper. The new nightspots offered art exhibitions, poetry readings and music, satisfying the artistic yearnings of Hong Kongers in the days before the Cultural Centre and the Arts Centre opened. What's more, 1997 was simply different. Which other company would have chartered a jet from Kai Tak in 1986 to allow 100 customers to see Halley's Comet? The mixture of innovation, eccentricity and eclecticism was irresistible. 'When 1997 opened it was crazy. People partied all night until 5am for the first three or four years because it was so new and available to them,' recalled Ms Garnaut. The influence of Maria Chan, now Mrs Rhomberg, as 1997's head of public relations (later Carline Ki took over), meant the venue began to attract well-off and well-connected Chinese customers - Kai-bong and Brenda Chau, David Tang, Bonnie Gokson and Danny Chan. The 1997 group surfed along on the big waves of Hong Kong affluence and lust for life. The good times lasted until the stock market crash of 1987 which left the big spenders, and many others, high and dry. The '90s brought a new approach and a new management team. Mr Rhomberg, the only survivor of the famous five of 1982, went into partnership with Ms Garnaut, the former manager of Club 1997 who had re-emerged running Seasons restaurant. The result was Post97 - a reincarnation of the old Restaurant 1997 - which opened in March 1990. This was where trendies clad in black sipped cafe au lait (cappuccino had already become passe, according to Fitzpatrick, who measures social changes with caffeine). Over the years, Nation 97 became Club 1997 and Mecca 97 became the first Middle Eastern style restaurant in Hong Kong. For most people 1997 is Lan Kwai Fong and the relative absence in the book of details about what else went on in the area as the group developed is a puzzling omission. Ms Garnaut feels there is nothing puzzling about it at all: 'We are not Lan Kwai Fong plus 1997. We are part of the Lan Kwai Fong area, but we are also independent of it - I want there to be clarity on that. I was chairperson of the Lan Kwai Fong Tenant'sAssociation; that was something I did for the area. But we are independent.' Ms Garnaut's pride in the 1997 group is understandable, but it ignores the fact that without Mr Rhomberg original concept with his four partners in the early '80s there would be no Lan Kwai Fong with its cobbled streets, sculptured rubbish area, its restaurants, festivals and esoteric 'happenings'. As 1997 moves into its second decade, Lan Kwai Fong is seemingly going upmarket as businessmen and lawyers open restaurants such as Beirut and Va Bene, and as tai-tais are disgorged from Rolls-Royces for lunch dates. Lan Kwai Fong is also paradoxically populist - burger baron McDonald's is moving in. Ms Garnaut says her little empire will continue to prosper, as long as it continues to keep ahead of the pack. The story is not over: Ms Garnaut and Mr Rhomberg are already planning 'a party to end all parties' on June 30, 1997. Your presence at the bash is assured if you buy one of the 1,997 numbered editions of Rats Liked It Well Enough that will retail for, youguessed it, $199.70. 'You have to be active; you have to be a bit different. We have the reputation - not always a good one - but we have one,' says Ms Garnaut. 'It's easy to keep something hot for a year - much harder for 11 years. We know people here - that is an enormous help. There is no reason why we should not be putting out a sequel to the book in 2002, we just have to keep working at it'