Australian Leisure and Hospitality group’s looking to bring a little bit of culture to Perth, be it European or associated with a Victoria Park landmark. Julie-anne Sprague talks to a couple of decision makers at ALH.

GUSTO caught up with the Australian Leisure and Hospitality group’s elusive Allan Jefferies this week to discuss the future of some of Perth’s landmark hotels. With the recent purchase of The City Hotel, and the group looking to obtain the licence to operate the Culture Garden (formerly the Babylon Hotel), it seems ALH has all but accomplished the acquisition plans put in place for this year.

“We review our property portfolio every year,” Mr Jefferies said. “Our strategy is to look at the inner urban area, that’s where we see we have expertise.”

He said the plans for 2002 involved finding two key inner city sites for development.

While ALH is waiting on an outcome for the Culture Garden, it is busy working on the concept of its most recent purchase, The City Hotel.

ALH group’s Brian Hopely is currently in Europe on a research trip, but it’s thought a main chunk of his itinerary will feature Belgium. Word about town is ALH will model The City Hotel on the famous Belgian beer cafes, one of which the group already operates in Adelaide.

Mr Jefferies could not comment on the plans but said Mr Hopely was looking at Belgian beer cafes as part of his overall study of hotel and bar trends in Europe.

“We will do fairly major renovations,” Mr Jefferies said.

“We haven’t contracted builders or been to council yet, it wouldn’t be until at least September or October.”

While he said developing The City Hotel would occupy a large amount of time, the group did want to add another venue to its operational belt.

The sale of Victoria Park tavern Culture Garden has been complicated because owner Geoff Chambers has been unsuccessful in his attempts to lift the extraordinary conditions imposed on the venue’s liquor licence. When Mr Chambers visited liquor licensing in March, Judge Greaves didn’t have much good news for him. The judge said that no further application for variation on the conditions of the licence could be made by the applicant – or an entity in which the applicant is interested – for a period of 18 months.

However, Mr Chambers is still in negotiations to sell the property to Windsor Knight Pty Ltd. Windsor Knight director Greg Pearce said he was looking to buy the Culture Garden and the two lots behind the building, intending to lease the operation to ALH. Mr Pearce said he wanted to turn the lots into parking and was in discussions with ALH regarding the lease.

However, Mr Pearce would have to apply for changes to the liquor licence after the sale. He already has sought support from the Town of Victoria Park. It is understood that, if the purchase goes through and the conditions of the licence are removed, ALH would take up the lease and operate the Culture Garden in a similar format to the Queens in Highgate.

“My role is as a developer, and negotiations with the community action group have proceeded very well,” Mr Pearce said.

“There is no conclusion at this stage of the purchase with the current owner.

“There are some conditions on the licence that ALH has difficulty with and the matter hasn’t been resolved yet.”

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Bar genius Nathan Hodder has taken over the running of Barrack Street Jetty’s Lucky Shag. Previously at the Como and Queens hotels, Nathan has been touted as one of the best barmen around town. And while he’ll bring some cocktail flair to the Lucky Shag, a complete makeover won’t be on the cards until his team is up and running.

“I’ve got the chance to get the right people in and create a really successful operation,” he said. Nathan has recently appointed Jason Daniels as head chef (formerly at Cafe Bonita) and marketing man Wayne Theobald. He is looking at getting an experienced bar supervisor in to complete his management team. At the moment the Lucky Shag is popular for corporate sundowners and cocktails and Nathan said he was hoping to expand the operation to include a more substantial menu and cocktail list. A big seller for the predominantly tourist market visiting the restaurant is the outdoor barbecue. The food is cooked on the barbie, which sits outside on the decking. But with room for corporate market expansion and a solid tourist trade, Nathan is looking at adding some sophistication.

“I’m looking at getting an upmarket style bar and gradually upgrading the menu. The sales figures are growing at 40 per cent a year and, with the bell tower and Bells Restaurant here, Barrack Street Jetty is looking very upmarket,” he said.

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Word about town that money has drifted far and wide from Driftwood Estate is warm but not hitting the nail on the head. Gusto caught up with owner Tom Galopoulos this week to discover that, in fact, a little bit of Chinese whispers is taking place. The winery is doing well, but the restaurant, which was licensed out eight years ago, has gone bust.

But the staff at Driftwood Estate Restaurant needn’t worry, Tom has paid their wages since their former employer left the business and says he’ll continue to operate the restaurant. Tom is currently cleaning the place up, giving it a fresh coat of paint and bringing in two experienced managers.

And, as for the winery?

“We’ve been operating for 17 years. We’ve got 100 tonnes of grapes this year and we can’t keep up with the supply,” Tom said.

And what about his Perth darling, Oceanus? It’s going just fine. Head chef Andrew Mann is off in Singapore promoting Aussie meat and Tom has sent some cases of Driftwood Wines for him to market as well.

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Davide and Romano Bianchi’s Onyx bar opened last week with a lavish party for about 450 guests. Pure opulence is the only way to describe the new lounge bar. Plush pure wool blood-red carpet imported from New Zealand is just one of many features that has turned this place into a stylish venue. Onyx is open on Wednesday and Thursday from 4pm to close (roughly midnight), Friday from 12pm to 1am, Saturday from 3pm to 1am, and Sunday 3pm to 9pm.

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A new wine guide that will be updated annually has hit the shelves of Dymocks and major wineries around our great State. The book, A5 size fit for the glovebox, follows three years of solid research by former journalist Mark Mentiplay. And while there are plenty of wine guides on the market, Mark said this was the first of its kind to be updated annually with a dedicated focus of linking wine with tourism.

“Not much is being done at present and this book is a package,” he said. “You can look at the maps and pick a place to stay that’s surrounded by several wineries and then decide to do other things, like eating here or surfing there.

“This book is designed to go in the glovebox. If they don’t agree with the wine notes they can jot that down and say so.”

Gusto understands this is a very comprehensive guide that also acts as a great reference. Mark has included contact details for the wineries, transferable to not just the wine novice, but anyone in sales or distribution. The Wine Travelling Guide to Western Australia 2002 has a recommended retail price of $35.

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