We chat with Bar Manager Fabien Marcault regarding the lead-up to CÉ LA VI, a three-floor dining and drinks destination that appears to be Hong Kong’s most anticipated nightlife offering this year. “The thing that sets CÉ LA VI apart from other Hong Kong nightlife offerings is just how much it can offer,” notes” Marcault”.
Words: Stephanie Hsu
Hong Kong’s most anticipated nightlife opening will see dining and lifestyle concept CÉ LA VI [an abbreviation of the French phrase translating to “this is life”] open its doors in a prime location, sitting at the top three floors Hong Kong’s recently renovated California Tower in the city’s Lan Kwai Fong dining and entertainment district. After orders to rename existing iconic locations in Singapore and Bangkok [both formerly branded with the Ku De Ta name], Hong Kong’s CÉ LA VI is a critical chance for the newly-minted lifestyle brand’s chance to show that it doesn’t need to ride on a famous name to create an trending hot-spot. With plans to eventually expand globally , CÉ LA VI’s decision to open its inaugural spot in Hong Kong’s ultra-competitive F&B market marks a confidence in their brand and ability to create buzz around yet the opening of another nightlife hotspot in an already saturated space.
The timing may be just right: a bitter legal battle and the inauguration of a novel nightlife concept isn’t the only thing driving the hype leading up to CÉ LA VI’s summer’s end opening. Allen Zeman, called the “godfather” of Hong Kong nightlife, undertook a huge risk in demolishing the ageing California Tower and the California Entertainment Building; in the hopes that building a new structure specifically designed for F&B would drive the balance of Hong Kong nightlife away from Wyndham Street and back towards Lan Kwai Fong. A key component of the new California Tower – and a strong selling point for CÉ LA VI’s – a large rooftop terrace, boasting an unparalleled view (and a jacuzzi, perhaps the perfect symbol of the type of irreverent luxury that the brand hopes to convey). Three floors totalling an impressive 40,000 square feet comprise of several integrated components: a club-lounge serving up CÉ LA VI’s menu of signature cocktails, a restaurant offering modern Asian dining, and the aforementioned outdoor terrace. French-born Fabien Marcault, whose experience in Asia includes a stint as GM of Central tiki-lounge Honi Honi, has been tasked with managing one of biggest nightlife operations in Hong Kong’s history.
“Filling the spaces for such a large team hasn’t been easy, but the name alone was a huge draw,”
“The thing that sets CÉ LA VI apart from other Hong Kong nightlife offerings is just how much it can offer,” notes Marcault.”A guest can go from lunch at the restaurant to aperitifs on the terrace, then down for dinner and onto a classic club experience, all in the same complex.” Managing such a varied operation is no easy task, with CÉ LA VI set to open from noon for lunch service into the early hours of the morning. Marcault’s team of 25 bartenders easily vies for the largest in the city.
The current bar team is a combination of industry professionals and fresh recruits drawn by the opportunities inherent in working for a rapidly expanding global lifestyle group. “Filling the spaces for such a large team hasn’t been easy, but the name alone was a huge draw,” claims Marcault, who relied on social media to broadcast a walk-in interview process – from which he hired nearly half of his starting team. Leading up to the opening, each member of the bar team underwent through a rigorous training and briefing process, learning not only how to make the twenty-four signature cocktails on CÉ LA VI’s inaugural menu, but coffees and drinks for the restaurant; aperitifs for the terrace. Rather than diving his bartenders into static teams, Marcault is opting for a more dynamic approach: staff will be rotated through the various sections of CÉ LA VI to ensure a varied working environment, as well as competence with the CÉ LA VI operation as a whole. “At CÉ LA VI I’m able to offer my staff a more varied experience, working at different stations all the time. I want my team to have fun while they’re working.”
In addition to hiring staff, forming relationships and cutting lucrative deals with spirit suppliers is a formidable challenge for a venue of this size. Though certain components – such as the wine list – will directly reference the CÉ LA VI in Singapore, other arenas have been a rush of suppliers determined to see their product utilised at a critical Hong Kong venue. “Everyone wants to be represented,” states Marcault matter-of-factly, citing the numerous emails he receives from suppliers. The volume may be overwhelming, but quality reigns: “When you have the right space and atmosphere, you can work with the best.” Parties thrown by Perrier Jouet and Grey Goose. Although certain signature cocktails will be retained from the CE LA VI menus at Singapore and Bangkok to give guests a feeling of continuity between the venues, Marcault himself created over fifteen original creations for the Hong Kong CE LA VI, as well as revisiting a selection of classic aperitifs. As part of the ‘brand DNA’ for CÉ LA VI includes the ‘core pillars’ of Asian-inspired aesthetics, expect innovative cocktail mixology matched to Asian tastes.
Original creations, such as the “Flowers of Hikari” – featurin CÉ LA VI sake, Grand Marnier liqueur, apricot Luxardo, and Blue Curacao liqueur – sit alongside revamps of classic cocktails, such as CE LA VI’s “Bloody Old Fashioned”: featuring Michter’s rye bourbon, Frangelico, chili and cashew syrup, topped with freshly squeezed blood orange. With a minimum estimate of two to three hundred cocktails served on an average day, cocktail recipes will have to walk the fine line between sophistication and ease of preparation. Marcault cheekily concedes: “I’m crazy about garnishes. You always drink the first cocktail with your eyes.” Equally eye-catching: CÉ LA VI’s drink prices [revolving around the auspicious number 8] – entry cocktails start at reasonable 98 HKD.
The aim is to build a crowd of loyal regulars, a key to surviving in Hong Kong’s competitive entertainment landscape. Though CÉ LA VI has lined up a roster of sponsored parties, a key component in what Marcault explains are the five essential elements in creating a trending dining and nightlife destination: “It’s all about the five senses. Drinks, design, the crowd, quality music – and most importantly, consistency. Regardless of when you come, whether on a weekend or a Monday, they have to deliver the same excellence each time.”