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17 May 2006 09:15
With the click of a switch, brightly polished restaurant tables lift almost magically into the ceiling and from sliding panels in the floor ice buckets emerge in time for the waiter who arrives with the champagne.
As the drinks are served the back wall lifts slowly to reveal a huge aquarium dominated by a hammerhead shark.
It’s no accident that the prospect of a night at M1NT, the exclusive members’ bar due to open in Hong Kong in September, sounds uncannily like a night in the high-tech lair of one of movie spy James Bond’s villains.
“One of our partners is a Bond and gadget freak—he’s living his fantasy in designing this bar,” says M1NT founder and chief executive Alistair Paton.
With 25-million Hong Kong dollars (more than $3-million) earmarked for the project on the fringe of the downtown business district, M1NT Hong Kong promises to be the most technologically dazzling bar in Asia.
Adding to the Bond-esque atmosphere, members will have to pass a fingerprint recognition scanner to gain entry and the bar will be staffed by security personnel trained to protect their high-rolling customers.
Such are the trappings necessary to attract the sort of super-rich clientele Paton counts as members of the bar’s founding branch in London, which was launched last year.
“There is a gaping hole in the market for something like this in Hong Kong,” says Paton. “There is no bar or restaurant that has the exclusivity befitting Hong Kong’s wealthy.”
The Hong Kong bar will be the second M1NT to open worldwide following the hugely successful launch last year of M1NT London bar, which claims not only to be the most exclusive club in the world but also one of the most successful.
Built on the premise that to remain exclusive, the clientele need to feel that they have a stake in the venture, M1NT operates as a limited liability company with the core customers owning the majority of shares.
With a share ownership and membership scheme open only to the richest applicants, the club’s prestige is assured.
“There are far too many clubs that claim to be exclusive but that in the end give away memberships or do deals for cheap memberships,” says Australian Paton.
“But that undermines the the exclusivity.
We do what we claim—we run the world’s most exclusive club.”
Paton claims there are 44 billionaires that are members or shareowners of his London bar and among the rich and famous that drink there are Chelsea football club chairperson Bruce Buck, actor Kevin Spacey and Prince William.
M1NT’s success in part lies in its business plan.
In Hong Kong they will be asked to invest a minimum of $50 000 and a maximum of $500 000, still a relatively small sum in a city where some elite club memberships are traded for many times that.
“That way the people that use the club benefit from it,” said Paton (27) formerly a successful commodities trader.
Shares may be sold, but only to a pool of 1 000 members, who have access to the bar but receive no dividend.
Income from bar takings are expected to be huge, considering drinks will be priced around $140 each and bearing in mind the big-hitters who have been invited to join: Richard Li, the millionaire son of Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man is on the list, as are casino kingpin Stanley Ho’s daughters.
If the experience of the London bar is anything to go by, the Hong Kong club is a potential gold mine.
“The value of shares in M1NT London appreciated 150% in just 12 months and gave a return on investment of 35%,” Paton says.
“Hong Kong is an easier place to do business and I think people go out more here than they do in London.”
Although regular membership fees are pretty low—they will be just 4 000 Hong Kong dollars a year—getting hold of one will be no easy feat, as England footballer David Beckham found when he was refused membership of the London club because he didn’t live close enough.
After completing a three-page application form that requires information on anything from your earnings to your interests and details of your social life, you will be vetted by a membership committee made up of shareholders.
Only applicants who win unanimous backing of the committee are allowed in.
With the Hong Kong bar barely even past the planning stage, Paton is already looking to the next M1NT venture—this time in Moscow.
“The emerging markets are the places to be—the likes of New York and Paris are just too fickle and not ready for anything like this,” he says. - AFP
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