Bibo is a space that I had never seen before; I wanted to see it but couldn’t find it anywhere. It’s a vision that passion has brought to reality,” says Bibo, a discrete person behind the project, who, like most in the street art scene, wishes to remain out of the limelight.
French fine dining is brought to street level in Hong Kong at Bibo. Serving up a modern take on classic French cuisine, wines of merit and back-to-the-roots cocktails, Bibo is a passion project that gives a nod to bohemian lifestyle. It is a concept that redefines understated luxury. The ongoing and ever changing project is an international first that sees a collaboration of the world’s most renowned contemporary and street artists together in one space. From installations by Vhils, Invader, JonOne, Stohead, Kaws, JR, Mr Brainwash, Ella & Pitr, Mist, MadC to hangings and works by Banksy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Daniel Arsham, Jeff Koons, King of Kowloon, Shepard Fairey, Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama to name a few, this pioneering project is set to open minds to a new way of eating and of seeing art.
“When Bibo came to us with his pioneering idea, we were faced with the challenge to create a fine dining restaurant and bar that would be a backdrop for street and contemporary art,” explains Maxime Dautresme, Creative Director of Substance design agency. “The idea of 1930s design was a perfect fit, modern enough to serve as a setting to constantly changing and extremely eclectic artistic expression, while creating an elegant and comfortable environment in which to serve French gastronomy.”
The Bibo journey begins at an elegant heritage building on Hollywood Road, a non-descript entrance amongst antique shops and art galleries. Discreetly opulent touches suggest this may be a regional office for a prosperous business. Yet inside the building, people gather to enjoy fine French cuisine in a setting filled with important and exciting works of contemporary and street art.
Dautresme explains, “We wanted to connect the decade, street art and gastronomy. Street artists often begin their careers spray-painting trains and trams. They also like to occupy disused heritage buildings and construction sites. They express themselves by layering their art on surfaces with a history. This building has age and is in a part of town with history and character. What if it had once been the office of a prosperous French transportation company?”
A new history for the building was invented: as the former regional headquarters for the fictional ‘Compagnie Générale Française de Tramways’ (CGFT), abandoned when the company’s plans to manage the Hong Kong tram systems never came to fruition. A few remnants of that enterprise linger; some furniture, financial ledgers, train timetables and unused ticket rolls. The new inhabitants are squatters: street artists, who gather in the vacated building to share food, drinks and ideas. This is the space now known as Bibo.
The space embodies a 1930s Parisian balance between form and function. The entrance is striking and luxurious with marble floors and elegant light fittings. Everything has a curved functionality, invoking mechanical engineering and transportation design.
The story of the imagined tram company is told physically through the form and fixtures of the building. The complex system of lighting and brass pipes is reminiscent of subway ventilation systems and networks. Thin lines from brass lamps which connect to the pipes in the ceiling act as points of extension, flirting with forms found in rail lines. The light fixtures themselves look like train signal lights. Brass is used widely, a material which is opulent yet modern.
As guests descend into the buzzing bar, Bibo’s commitment to French Art Deco is evident. From the arched ceiling corners to the brass pipes, parquet and French oak floors no detail is missed. Three distinct floor designs, each over a hundred years old, are features throughout the space, Herringbone, Anjou, Versailles. Layers of unevenly stacked marble create the bar, referencing abandoned construction sites. Dining tables are created from gently misaligned stone slabs.
“At the core of the project is an artistic concept. I invited street artists from around the world to create installations directly on the walls, even before the design was finalised. Alcoves, doors, walls, ceilings have been used by the street artists as surfaces to express themselves,” says Bibo. “We wanted things to look slightly unfinished, but in an organic way. It makes the artists feel more at home. Hence the idea of a squat.”
The legend of ‘La Compagnie Générale Française de Tramway’ is perpetuated throughout the storyline of Bibo. The company logo uses typography that is both functional and mechanical, a distinct palette of blue and brass, along with a sharp pattern of interlocking lines, further illustrating the visual forms of railways and the general theme of connectivity. The concept of layering and reusing objects of value is continued in the printed materials: business cards that used to be tram tickets, and menus printed on train schedules from the past. These visual cues entice all who enter the space to participate in the story – the team, the guests and the artists—giving Bibo a sense of community.
Heading the culinary team is Executive Chef Mutaro Balde, whose three Michelin star background includes Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee Paris and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, London. Chef Mutaro brings passion and creativity to each dish, paying homage to the traditions of French cuisine by reinterpreting classic French dishes. Behind the bar, renowned mixologist Alexandre Chatté creates a dynamic menu of handcrafted cocktails from the forgotten classics of the 1930s. He plays with unusual and complex ingredients, and prepares everything in-house using tools and equipment not traditionally applied to the modern bar setting.
The dimly-lit library, complete with a fireplace, comfortable sofas, books, carpets and candles opens into the main dining area where the art speaks for itself and vintage windows make the Ladder Street scene a part of the design. Here, guests can enjoy a unique fine dining experience that breaks the laws of what luxury French dining is. For a more intimate gathering, diners may book the private room upstairs, where the rarest contemporary and street art hangings can be found. Each room is built with many layers that tell Bibo’s story and creates a façade for guests to enjoy decadence.
[Photo credits: Red Dog, Nathaniel McMahon]