05/10/2018 - 09:51

Rooftop bar growth a blue-sky opportunity

05/10/2018 - 09:51

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Growing investment in rooftop bars across Perth reflects a need to offer a point of difference in what has been a tough market, publicans say.

Joe Baily says to keep a bar successful, a business needs to reinvest in it. Photos: Gabriel Oliveira

Growing investment in rooftop bars across Perth reflects a need to offer a point of difference in what has been a tough market, publicans say.

The team at The Aviary bar on Murray Street has recognised the growing thirst for rooftop bars in Perth, unveiling a refurbishment of the upstairs venue last month, seven years after it opened.

The Aviary has been joined by venues such as Rooftop at QT, Hadiqa and Aurora, all of which opened this year.

The number of rooftop bars in Perth has doubled in the past two years, with the National Hotel in Fremantle next to join the party (see map and table).

The Aviary is a stalwart of the scene in Perth, having been opened by Melbourne-based The Publican Group in 2011. It was bought by another interstate brand, Australian Venue Company, earlier this year.

 

AVC general manager WA Joe Baily told Business News the bar had been due for a facelift, although it had been a preemptive move rather than driven by necessity.

“For us it’s iconic, it’s in the CBD, in a great location … an open-air rooftop bar, which is exactly what you want in Perth,” Mr Baily said.

“If you want to keep your businesses successful you need to reinvest in them.

“It was looking pretty tired, it showed a few battle scars.”

He said the changes had included a major audiovisual upgrade, better heating and weather-proofing, new furniture and plants, backed up by an improved food offering and new chef.

“People will notice the changes, its a lot fresher,” Mr Baily said.

He said the bar catered to two markets – customers who might come in for lunch and a drink during the day, and evenings on weekends when it became a night spot.

“It’s fun; we’re not trying to be really pretentious,” Mr Baily said.

At the National Hotel, the rooftop extension is the completion of a refurbishment project that has been ongoing for years.

Owner Karl Bullers told Business News the building was just a shell when he bought the property seven years ago.

The lower floors were first to be refreshed and have operated for five years, while Mr Bullers hunted down financing to develop hotel rooms and the rooftop bar on the fifth floor.

“It’s the highest (building) at this end of Fremantle, so you’ve got 360 degree views,” Mr Bullers said.

The bar will have views of Fremantle Prison and the Fremantle Port, and should be ready to pour beers from mid-October.

Mr Bullers has a long history in the Perth bar scene, having previously owned Carnegies and the Conservatory.

“I suppose I’ve got a thing … I opened the first rooftop bar in Perth (in 2011), the Conservatory, on top of Carnegies,” he said.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling to be able to stand on top of a building, you get the views and a very different perspective of wherever you happen to be”

Karl Bullers is a veteran of Perth rooftop bars. 

Bob’s Bar and The Aviary followed Conservatory, while Mechanic’s Institute started trading in 2012.

The Conservatory was later sold, and is now part of Prince Lane bar.

A swag of new entrants has sprung up in the past two years, some fully rooftop and some with just a space on the roof.

Tiki as FK bar on James Street in Northbridge, Loft Lounge at the InterContinental Perth City Centre, and New Normal Bar + Kitchen in Subiaco entered the market in 2017.

This year’s newcomers are: Hadiqa, located at Hibernian Place and part of Andy Freeman’s Sneakers and Jeans company; Rooftop at QT, atop the QT Perth hotel; Hi Line Bar at Crown Perth in Burswood; and Aurora at the Melbourne Hotel.

Australian Venue Company’s Mr Baily said he was comfortable with competition.

“I think it’s healthy for the industry, the more good venues in the area and in Perth, the more it’s going to bring people to the area,” he said.

“Perth is pushing to drive more tourists in.

“I’ve been impressed with the Perth market, there are some really good operators out there doing some really good venues; the market is definitely ready for it.

“There are some people who have struggled and I think the people who have struggled have not reinvested or reinvented themselves.

“If you’ve ridden the [mining boom] wave and now that wave is over and you’re not ready to change, you will struggle.”

National Hotel’s Mr Bullers said there was a flood of new hospitality venue supply during the boom years.

“It’s a tough market at the moment, “ he said.

“You’ve got a massive vacancy rate, particularly in the City of Perth, and you’ve got a tough economy.

“During the boom time everybody was opening venues, so it’s certainly survival of the fittest at the moment.

“It’s not easy, but unique offerings certainly help.”

New Normal Bar + Kitchen in Subiaco is a good example of how bars are differentiating, with co-owner Darryl Naidu telling Business News he hoped to highlight the unique produce of the South West

“We started with the intention to create a contribution to culinary culture in WA with local produce,” Mr Naidu said.

With the exception of some spices, all produce is sourced from the state’s  South West, which Mr Naidu said was one of the world’s finest biodiversity regions.

“We do so partly to help develop our culinary cultural identity but mostly to ensure that we have as much influence over the value chain as possible,” he said.

Limiting waste was also an important part of the business’s approach.

“I’d say we’re probably one of the most efficient hospitality businesses in the world in terms of the way we handle waste,” Mr Naidu said.

“Having proximity to all players in our value chain, we are able to really influence the creation of waste in a positive way.”

He was bullish about the rooftop bar model.

“There’s probably an undersaturation of rooftop bars in Perth,” Mr Naidu said.

“On the surface you’d look at Perth’s weather and say it’s perfectly oriented to supporting that sort of outdoor socialising.

“The practicality, being a fairly keen kite surfer, I understand how much wind hits Perth, it is really windy.

“More than anything it’s poor design (of the bar) that would take people away.”

Loft Lounge targets a higher-end market, according to Intercontinental Perth director of food and beverage Andrew McGie.

Understanding a bar’s demographic was critical, he said.

“We just wanted to keep it a cool, casual upmarket place,” Mr McGie told Business News.

“It’s definitely dialled up a little bit, I wouldnt say it’s your everyday bar.”

Mr McGie said Intercontinental did not seek to advertise the venue, which has a reasonably small capacity, to a mass market.

Offerings like high teas and cocktails were part of the upmarket appeal, while Loft will be extending a big cheese selection in the near future.

He said Perth was following other locations with the uptake of the rooftop concept.

“It’s all branched from London and New York, there’s a demand for it,” Mr McGie said.

“I’ve been quite spoiled, I’ve managed to travel through a lot of countries, I’ve been to a lot of cool rooftop bars.

“You want to offer something a little bit different.”

Print Hall general manager Sebastien Lepoittevin said the bar’s differentiation was a focus on craft beer, with a target market centred around professionals.

“We have a strong craft beer program, which we drive through monthly events with local and interstate breweries (and) an always rotating range of beers on tap,” Mr Lepoittevin said.


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