The first time we went, my friend couldn’t decide between iced chocolate and white chocolate coffee. The man taking our order told him to go the path of white chocolate, and then imitated shaking a can of liquid. “Cold coffee tastes better when it’s shaken,” he explained. And it did. Where in Hong Kong can you find furiously hand-blended coffee, a most scrumptious avocado bagel, homemade apple crumble, all day breakfast, a glass of Stonehaven Shiraz 2004, the most stylish bathroom in Hong Kong, authentic wooden school desks with flip-open tops, and menus printed on those blue books they gave you back in school?
We just can’t keep away from Afterschool Cafe, a hidden gem in Hong Kongs’s Causeway Bay district. Neither can dozens of loyal friends and customers. Afterschool draws such a devoted base because it’s neither 100% cafe nor 100% workplace. Pokit Poon, the founder and visionary behind Afterschool, the man who shook the coffee that night, talks about how people come in the middle of the night, how some of them come alone to be sad, and how it makes him happy that they come like this.
Pokit explains how he named it: “When one graduates from school, and enters the world of work, this is the most energetic dream, the most beautiful moment. Around me, I can see how many people around me have lost this moment. I want my friends to hold onto this energy in their lives.” He deliberately avoids media exposure or even a sign outside, because he wants to build a sense of connection among its visitors.
Afterschool is run by Pokit and a cluster of part-time staff. “I do it with a balance of instinct and practicality,” he says. The cafe is truly a union of art and function, a maximization of space. The small space holds a large seating area, an antique piano, a bar, a professionally equipped kitchen, that sublime bathroom, and a private design studio, where Pokit works during the day. It is even bigger and more functional than this. Afterschool recently became one of ART IT’s only Hong Kong distributors. He respects the concept behind this Japanese magazine about new art in Asia, and hopes that his customers will benefit from reading about what’s happening in nearby cities. “The cafe is a space to share.”
While learning about design trends, he’s also learned about managing a food and beverage business. While it is easy to open a cafe in Hong Kong, it is hard to maintain. A lot of hard work goes into making things seem clean and fine by the time the first customers of the day roll in. Pokit sees it as a constant balance between the practical and art-related concept and goals. It’s difficult to do both at once, but even harder to compromise one for the other. He is first looking to make the practical operation smooth, and then focus more on the real work that will then be possible.
So much of this balance between art and practicality is reflected in how Pokit sees artists in Hong Kong. Because artists here have to have a job that pays the bills too, it’s hard to support art. “Many people here have heart, but they just don’t have the time,” he says. He notes that this has caused many artists to move to other cities with a more supportive environment. “I believe that people have to make happen what they want to happen, no matter where they are,” he adds.
What Pokit and his friends have done with this space reflects his own philosophy. One of the tables is an door from the building that houses Afterschool, as is an old gate that decorates the wall. Everything in the cafe is found or salvaged. “Every year, the changes in Causeway Bay are horribly fast,” Pokit describes. In two years, all the shops downstairs have changed. Everything is thrown away. But I think some things are too nice to be left for the street or landfill. So I brought them back to the cafe.”
With a background in interior design and a dream of being a photojournalist, Pokit wanted to change the world. He says, “The root of heart is that function is most beautiful. Then that is enough.” He expects the things in his space to be built well, and to last a long time, an idea a far cry from Hong Kong’s rapid consumption of disposable products. “I am not an artist,” he says, “but I like the real things.”
One real thing he is working on is making an Afterschool album. He doesn’t want it to be background to people eating or going about their business: “We must respect the inside of things.” Since Afterschool is about how to make things that inspire people, he asked friends to select the most inspiring music in their lives. They will then perform and record these songs at Afterschool for the album. Some people might even use the antique piano donated by a friend. “No matter how out-of-tune the piano is, we use it because it’s truthful,” Pokit adds.
He concludes, “I want to know what people think and would like to bring together more people who can share their power, energy, ideas. It’s not easy to maintain this space, and it might one day be lost. But the energy of this place cannot disappear. We have to spread it out to people for their journeys. We all need it.”
Address: 2/F,17 Yun Ping Rd, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Hours:Monday to Thursday : 4:30pm – 1:30am
Friday : 4:30pm – 2:30am
Saturday : 12:00pm – 2:30am
Sunday : 12:00pm – 1:00am
Text and photos: Kat Lo