What do you get when 40 friends pool their money together to start a bar? A friendly haunt for a cheeky crowd, and a recipe for success.
Nestled on Peel Street in a cul-de-sac peppered with neighbourhood drinking holes lies Bobby’s Rabble, a 400 sq.ft. bar that is more often than not teeming. Launched in 2015 by a group of 40 friends, Bobby’s quickly became a firm staple on the Hong Kong nightlife scene, managing to crack the ‘Top 10 Best Beer Bar’ list at the HK Bar Awards three years in a row. These early successes led to a second and much larger location which can now be found in the very heart of the nightlife hub of Wyndham Street, a stone’s throw away from the Hive Central. In the short six months since that launch, Bobby’s on Wyndham has garnered its own bevvy of loyal clientele, and even managed to make the top 10 in ‘Best New Bar’ category at this year’s HK Bar Awards (no small feat for a bar that prides itself in being ‘no-frills’).
Bobby’s Rabble is the wicked brainchild of David McEwan, or Dave as he’s known by his regulars. He founded the original bar on Peel Street with the help of 40 friends after approaching them with the idea of creating a go-to spot that would, in effect, belong to all of them. In explaining the name, he’s quick to point out that he is, in fact, not ‘Bobby’. “We always planned to reference the place where our bar was first founded. The original bar is located on Peel, a street named after British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, hence ‘Bobby’. While the ‘Rabble’ refers to the 40 friends of mine that each put a bit of money in”.
This rabble has played a huge part in Bobby’s success. “The biggest benefit of getting into this with friends is that we didn’t have to do any advertising or marketing for the first year. We just relied on word of mouth”, Dave explains. “All of the 40 rabbles involved were excited to show off Bobby’s to our girlfriends, husbands, colleagues, clients, and sports mates. And word just spread from there”.
This ideal of friendship on which Bobby’s Rabble is built has not only helped to broaden its customer base but has also lent itself to its overall feeling and vibe. Upon entry to either location, you’ll be met with an immediate and welcomed sense of community. “You’ll always find a fair few of the rabble hanging at the bar, and I think that inherent friendliness between us friends rubs off onto the customers as well so that even if you weren’t initially a part of it, you’ll find that you soon get stuck in”, insists Dave.
There are, of course, challenges that come with having so many shareholders in a business. “It’s true that too many chefs can spoil the broth”, laughs Dave. “40 investors means 40 different opinions on 60 different things, from thoughts on what music we should play to which beers we ought to have on tap”. But, for him, the many perks outweigh the complications. “If things do go wrong, it can cause friction. But, thankfully, we’re all mature and open enough to get beyond that”.
In November 2017, the second branch of Bobby’s Rabble opened, a mere 8 minutes walk from the first. Situated on Wyndham’s entertainment strip, the 1400 sq. ft. venue attracts much of the same clientele alongside the much sought-out after-work crowd and, like the Peel Street location, it proudly sports a huge, stylised graphic of Sir Bobby Peel on its back wall. Whilst the choice of decor is definitely more on the minimal side, the unpretentious venue offers a refreshing and deliberate break from its more upscale neighbours.
“Over the past 7 years or so, the drinking culture in Hong Kong has definitely changed, and we wanted to cater to this”, begins Dave. “In the past, customers fell into two categories, with some being quite happy strawpedoing a cheap 7-11 drink on the streets of Lan Kwai Fong, and others opting to go high-end and pay top whack. But now, there seems to be more of a middle ground with a growing number of customers quite rightly expecting a good experience, good products, and good service all at a reasonably good price. I really admire places like Pontiac and Brickhouse as they are somehow both fun and funky, and neither expensive nor cheap. A lot of places in Hong Kong that might have been successful in the 80s and 90s are closing now because they’re not adapting to this trend”.
With plans to expand the Bobby’s brand in both Hong Kong and abroad already in motion and delicious food offerings in the pipeline, it certainly seems that Hong Kong’s friendliest bar is here to stay. When asked to pinpoint the key to the bar’s success, Dave replies, “The rabble! Having a spread of demographically different friends played a huge part in ramping up our business in the early days, and in sustaining it ever since. But, of course, you can’t rely solely on your shareholders. You have to build something that everyone is proud to be a piece of, regardless of whether it’s an investment or not”.
46 Wyndham St, Central
$50 Happy Hour 5-8pm, every day.