Text: TL ling
Translated by: Joel Wong
Image: TL Ling, Accro & Dog99
Night vibes are the hottest topic in town. The post-pandemic evening economy is challenging to revive with just a click. In the meantime, two coffee shops, Accro in Yuen Long and Dog99 in Sham Shui Po, have been open till after hours into the night for many years.
The owners of the two shops said when they started the business and offered coffee late at night, it was not because it could make a decent income but because they wanted to provide people with a space at night to relax. The night coffee culture in Hong Kong is sparse, but regular customers convinced the owners of Accro and Dogg99 that there is always a demand for a cup of cup late-night coffee.
Siphon coffee pots on the bar table at Accro.
A place to chill after hours
Why coffee late at night? The answer come to Mok Wai Kin (Ah Kin) more than a decade ago, when was having a dull life working as a clerk in Kwai Chung before becoming a barista and a roaster, or even the shop owner of Accro, "A lot of times after work, say around 8 o'clock. I didn't want to go home; I would go to a nearby coffee shop called Soulmate (which had seized their business already) with my girlfriend to chill. "Ah Kin remembers. "There were not many small shops like Soulmate in Hong Kong at that time. He felt that the taste of the coffee and the atmosphere in the shop were better than those of chain coffee shops. He also laughed "The shop owner did not set a closing time. "After getting to know each other, the shop owner even taught Ah Kin how to brew coffee at the shop after hours. That inspired him to head to Taiwan and learn from the famous coffee master Chuo Wei-min for over a month.
Founded Accro in Yuen Long in 2010. "Just a blink of an eye, it has been 13 years since I started Accro." Ah Kin belongs to Gen Y and grew up in Yuen Long. "I had the idea to operate the shop until late at night right off the start because there is nothing to do in Yuen Long late at night. There wasn't any place where people could chill. When I was younger, my choices were noisy bars or upstairs cafes." He started working at 15 and claimed to have a taste of everything around him for fun. Late-night coffee time is simply a different kind of experience. Except during the pandemic, Accro closes at 11 p.m. "During the first few years of operation, Accro always opened until 2 a.m. But then I would return to the shop after I woke up the next afternoon, so there were no fixed operating hours. Now it opens at 10 a.m. on time." Ah, Kin says with a big grin on his face.
Ah Kin discovered that people from all walks of life crave a late night coffee break. " Even the elderly will come after dinner. They are retired people who are reluctant to go to the bar. Couples come for a cup of coffee after putting their children to bed and leave the rest for their helper. Some students did not want to go home and stayed here to do their homework."
Ah Kin is the owner of Accro.
For the love of Yuen Long Coffee Nighters
Accro sells regular coffee and also siphon and hand-drip coffee. Ah Kin is an award-winning barista and was the "Hong Kong Coffee Brewers Cup Championship" champion 2016. He believes that the joy of coffee is for everyone, whether a novice or an expert. "What's wrong with a cup of Americano? As long as you enjoy it. You can enjoy different kinds of coffee on different occasions. When I go to Cha Chan Tang for food, I usually get myself a Yuan Yang （Coffee with Tea）." People seek a cup of "night coffee" and order what they desire, "The most important thing for us at Accro is to provide a relaxing space to customers. Some come to chat with friends, some prefer to sit alone, some want to phone surfing for a bit, do as you wish."
Even though the evening economy condition is still deserted after the pandemic, coupled with the wave of immigration, Ah Kin said nearly 80% of regular customers have left Hong Kong. But luckily, some new faces emerged to fill the void. Recent events held at Accro were also a great success - A few months ago, Ah Kin had an evening of tasting Japanese sake and Coffee Cocktails. After three location changes in 13 years of operation, Accro still managed to stay in Yuen Long. Ah Kin said it was because of the strong bond with the place where he grew up. "I met a customer since I opened the shop more than a decade ago. I witnessed him date, get married, and have children; he even brought his children to Accro. Some regular customers have left Hong Kong and occasionally come back to visit me at the shop. I grew up in Yuen Long. I hope people in Yuen Long who need coffee at night can come to Accro. Perhaps it's a niche, but good enough for Accro to carry on."
Accro launches special drinks or new coffee cocktails from time to time. (Image: Accro)
Accro is the French word for “addiction”.
Connecting the Shum Shui Po Community
Coffee shops open late and have been rooted in the community for many years. Apart from Accro in Yuen Long, there is also Dog99 in Sham Shui Po. It is located on Wong Chuk Street, where tenement buildings are lined. There are laundries and auto repair shops nearby, very grassroots. Andy has been a barista here since the shop opened in 2018 and has become one of the owners in recent years. He said that Circle, the founder, also runs the car wash opposite Dog99. Andy describes Circle as an energetic middle-aged man senior to him, "Circle is such a night owl and drinks coffee in the middle of the night. The motto behind Dog99 is straightforward: try to take care of everyone who craves coffee at any time." A few months after the shop's grand opening, it extended its business hours to 24 hours. Due to the pandemic, we had no choice but to shorten the hours from 12 noon to 4 a.m. It remains so to this date."
Andy is one of the three owners of Dog99.
At first, Andy wondered who would crave late-night coffee like Circle? "I realized such customers exist after I came here to work. They are of different age groups, say people in their 40s and 50s come to chat with their friends, there are college students who come with their computers and sit all night." Andy said Dog99 is relatively quiet as it is not located in a business district but primarily the whole house from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Even though the evening economy is currently still facing its downturn.
"We have been operating the shop here for several years and have a deep connection with this community. Things would have turned out differently if we had moved to another area. For instance, there are several garages in this area, and a group of bike riders come to our shop." At Dog99, you can choose Italian blend, iced drip, or hand-drip coffee. Andy said "Do guests care most about what kind of coffee they can order? Not so, more so people are seeking a moment to relax under a soothing atmosphere."
The confined space does not hinder customers to come and have a drink.
Impromptu and Casual
Compared with other cafes along Tai Nan Street, which have become popular check-ins for hipsters from other areas, "But no one comes to our shop to check-in, and rarely have people invite their business partners to chat." During the visit, the tenement building above Dog99 was undergoing exterior repairs, which is covered in scaffolding for now. "It makes our shop front so dark, so Circle hung some lights onto it." Some things happen by chance. Andy said that one coffee-nighter was a camera enthusiast and later started camera workshops here at the shop. "That makes the shop become like a small classroom. Later on, the workshops happen regularly."
These hanging bulbs are truly stylish.
Andy feels that the night coffee culture has yet to become a trend in Hong Kong. He estimates only around five coffee shops that have late operating hours. "There are always people who crave a night coffee, but operating a coffee shop is not such a business with huge income in the first place, and running long operating hours makes it even more difficult. Not many people are motivated by such a small will to start a business." Regarding serving coffee to customers day and night, he said that his partner, Circle is very persistent, "There was a film crew that wanted to rent our place to shoot some scenes, but Circle insisted on keeping businesses operating at the same time by asking the crew to utilize just a portion of the shop for filming." Andy said, " Actually, I want to resume to 24-hour business hours. But judging from the current economic environment in Hong Kong, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon."
Dog99’s operates till 4a.m. （Image：Dog99）