Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Bex raises the bar with first gay happy hour

Posted by Kimberly on July 24, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
July
24, 2007, page 5&6 (967 words)

Pics provided by Filipe Senna Fernandes

For those that may have heard the rumours but weren’t quite sure, Bex bar near the cultural centre is open and ready for business.
“We are making a big comeback,” said owner Filipe Senna Fernandes.
And there’s no bigger statement to be made than the announcement of Macau’s first gay happy hour.
While this only occurs on a Friday, keeping the rest of the week free for the usual crowd, it means that there’s somewhere for Macau’s “pink population,” according to Filipe, to go.
“There’s nowhere for them to go. I believe a few years back they had a joint around this area but even that was closed,” he said.
Having undertaken extensive research with the help of his promoter, Filipe found out just how many there really are.
“There’s this website and apparently it’s one of the biggest gay sites in Asia.
“So what the promoter did was, he lined up this website and the number one gay magazine in Hong Kong and did a little bit of research.
“Apparently there are about 780 registered members from Macau on that website. So a lot of people you don’t see. If you see them you don’t know because it’s not part of their requirement on a professional level.
“So there was a good market,” he said.
And that market has recognised a good thing when they see it, having filled the bar over the past two occasions.
“The first week, people started dancing at 10.30 pm. It’s kind of a miracle in Macau believe me! They start very slow. There were about 160 people that came,” said Filipe.
It’s a concept that many bars could only dream of having the courage to visualise and create. For Filipe that was even more the case, having had difficulties over the past three years, ranging from staff resignations to legal battles.
Even the bar as a concept has been a relatively new one.
“When we opened we started off as a restaurant actually. We were serving Italian food,” said Filipe.
“Then we started to see people coming in really late and for some reason they liked to stay around the bar area which we didn’t expect.
“Somehow the restaurant side didn’t really take off so we started to put more effort into the bar side and that’s how we started,” he said.
The last leg of the restaurant side of the business fell off when the cook resigned.
“ About a year and a half ago, we even had to cut back the restaurant operation because there was a lack of people.
“And six months ago my last cook resigned and went somewhere else! It’s horrible in Macau. “There’s a huge shortage of human resource in Macau in the service industry,” said Filipe.
So having agreed with the promoter that the concept of a gay happy hour could indeed work in Macau, the crowd coming in over the past two weeks have proven that this could work.
“We’re now doing this for another two weeks. It was good because it wasn’t just the happy hour concept; there were performances, little shows,” said Filipe.
The sheer enormity of the venue, to some, may seem like an unnerving challenge to fill with customers. Not so Filipe.
“We have an advantage in having a venue of this size,” he said.
He admits the challenge exists but believes that anything he dreams up, has to be done on a grand scale to meet that challenge.
“It’s all about mood. You’re coming into a club, you expect a lot of people,” he said.
“And when you talk about this particular crowd, I believe they are very sensitive people. So I would try to make them feel at ease as much as possible,” adding that without the promoters he couldn’t have done something like this.
“To be honest, I don’t see what they see. So I did a lot of research, in that respect,” he said.
The predominant style of music played is progressive house, something Filipe believes “Macau doesn’t really like.”
For those unfamiliar with this style, it’s a style of music having originated in the United Kingdom, where more electronic sounds are used, bringing it closer to techno than the traditional house style. It’s best known for its big dramatic build-ups, crescendos and breakdowns.
“We lag behind at least 4 to 5 years in music. There’s only one type of music that’s working right now and that’s funky house. The easiest example are the remixes of 80’s songs,” he said.
Despite all the competition from various music clubs and bars, particularly along NAPE, Filipe clearly doesn’t see them as such.
“I don’t see that as competition. Actually I welcome it,” he said.
“I think that’s how we’re going to drive the whole scene. We have to work together. It’s a free market and I think people should go anywhere they want.”
He added that the bar has its own style. They know what they’re doing.
“And we are also international but with a very local flavour.
“I believe we are very well positioned in this sense,” he said.
Asked to describe Bex, Filipe responds with “a friendly place. People come in to get to know others. It’s a melting pot.
“You’re going to see a lot more Chinese but even from that, 80 percent are English speakers.
“I always wanted to bring that Western aspect to Macau,” he said, adding that his 13 years in Canada, despite being brought up in Macau have helped to shape that.
The gay happy hour will go on for two more Fridays, July 27 and August 3, with Filipe looking toward the future for this concept once he’s convinced of its popularity.
According to Filipe, “I think we have a different model. Hey, welcome to more choices!”

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