It's another week night at One Bar and Grill in Exchange Square and the hired room at the back of the venue is buzzing with the sound of close to 200 professionals unwinding after a tough day at the office. The wine is flowing, business cards are being exchanged and people are catching up with old contacts and making new ones. A doctor laments the lack of Britain-based job opportunities in his specialist field, two architects discuss the designs for the West Kowloon project and an events organiser from New York reminisces about the Big Apple's cosmopolitan bar scene. One could be mistaken for thinking this is a Christmas cocktail reception organised by an international bank, law or accounting firm. The mostly male crowd is dressed in tailored suits, expensive shirts and good-quality smart/casual wear. The watches on the wrists are Cartier and Mont Blanc, the leather loafers are from Tod's and the spectacle frames are Issey Miyake. The stylish fashions suggest these men spend time and money on their appearances. But this is no executive cocktail party; this is Fruits in Suits, a monthly meeting of like-minded gay and lesbian professionals. It's a place to network and swap business cards in a relaxed environment away from the party scene. The event is non-profit-making and the $50 door fee goes to local charities. Inside the crowded room is a consumer demographic that has remained largely untapped by local companies - Hong Kong's 'pink dollar'. The term describes the spending power of the gay community, and most of the people who have met in One Bar and Grill every third Tuesday of the month for the past four months are high-net-worth individuals or couples: professional, educated, image- and health-conscious people with high disposable incomes. According to Singapore-based gay and lesbian portal Fridae.com, more than half its 100,000 regional members earn more than US$26,500 a year. The website's annual Nation party, which was launched in 2001, now attracts more than 5,000 revellers. It has caught the attention of the Singapore Tourism Board, which recognises the spending power of the 1,000 or so party-goers attending the event from outside the city state, including many from Hong Kong. (Last year, Witeck-Combs Communications, a Washington DC-based public relations company that researches gay spending trends, estimated their buying power in the United States to be about US$485 billion.) Club 97 in Lan Kwai Fong has been holding a gay happy hour every Friday night for the past 12 years. What started out as a 'social service' to provide Hong Kong's gay professionals with a relaxing venue in which to enjoy a drink after work soon became a commercial success, says Jamie Higgins, general manager of the ninetyseven group. 'It's been so successful it's turned into a bit of a money-spinner,' he says, adding that approximately 250 people attend the weekly event. Hong Kong businesses have been slow to embrace the gay community as a consumer demographic. Vice versa, many in the gay community do not want to stand out as a target market. Until legislation was passed in 1991, being openly homosexual in Hong Kong could have meant a life sentence in prison. Higgins suggests 'corporate values' - the unwritten rules of many international firms - also play a role. 'Over 75 per cent of our clientele are business people who are not openly gay,' he says. 'They leave behind their business cards, but expressly request that no promotional material be e-mailed to them at work.' But as the events organiser at Fruits points out: 'They may not have come out yet, but they are still spending the pink dollar.' In 1991, telecoms company Sunday made a brief yet coy foray into the niche market with an advertising campaign charged with gay sexual innuendo. A press advertisement for the company's discount call rate showed three men in revealing attire, one of them kneeling, beside the words: 'You can't miss this opportunity.' The Chinese character for 'opportunity' is pronounced 'gay' and has the same meaning in Cantonese as in English. The advert also urged customers to be 'happy together', borrowing from the title of the well-known gay film directed by Wong Kar-wai. A spokesman for the company at the time would not confirm if the ads were targeting a gay audience. Stuart Koe, chief executive of Fridae.com, says companies in Asia are wary about being stuck with the 'gay' label. 'As more people are identified as being gay, the more companies will wake up to them,' he says. 'The problem is people [in Asia] aren't comfortable with being identified as gay.' Back at the Fruits in Suits party, the evening is just beginning. The event is scheduled to run from 6.30pm to 8.30pm, but many people stick around until 10pm or later. The Malaysian co-founder of the event, spawned by a similar one running in Sydney, is at pains to point out making money is not the goal of the evening. The event, like any other, is just another way for individuals to satisfy a basic human emotion present in us all. 'You can disguise it however you want, but gay guys are always trying to meet new friends or perhaps a life partner, just like everyone else,' he says.