Global Bar Report 2023: Australasia
New entrants in Australia and New Zealand are invigorating the bar scene, with both countries starting to fully bounce back post-pandemic.
A cautious optimism has permeated the bar trade in Australia and New Zealand over the past 12 months. Both island nations felt the full force of closed borders and protracted lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic. While staffing, supply issues, and inflationary pressures not seen in decades are hampering the bounceback, positive signs are emerging.
“The industry feels more normal than it did 12 months ago,” says Evan Stroeve, founder of The Waratah, the soon-to-launch Sydney bar that is set to become one of the biggest openings of the year. “There are still issues with understaffing, supply lines, and delays with delivery. However, there’s an air of excitement leading into summer.”
Stroeve is one of Australia’s most accomplished bartenders. His resumé boasts stints at Bulletin Place and RE, and a win at the Australian final of the 2021 Diageo Reserve World Class competition. For his new venture, Stroeve will champion sustainable practices and local produce – core tenets of the bars he previously managed. “It’s a venue that has something to say, and communicates an important love of Australia,” says Stroeve.
“There’s a global trend that is seeing more bars champion the efforts of local producers. This is a tangent of sustainable practice, such as reducing food miles, but it’s also something that is being approached with a sense of pride. With the diversity of Australian climates, there is huge opportunity here for venues to creatively engage with what grows around them.”
This sourcing of local ingredients has helped to increase overall sales in premium Australian food and drink offerings, according to industry analyst IBISWorld. Rising discretionary income is also boosting on-premise sales, and IBIS anticipates that industry revenue will soon rise again. In Melbourne, which is forecast to become Australia’s most populous city by 2031, the bar trade is just starting to find its feet after a bruising pandemic period.
“Melbourne is still recovering,” says Oska Whitehart, co-owner of Bar Bellamy, reflecting on the time when Melbourne became one of the world’s most locked-down cities. Along with his wife, Danielle Whitehart, Oska opened Bar Bellamy in early 2023, a Euro-style cocktail bar with a sophisticated food offering. It became an instant hit.
“Trade throughout Melbourne has been down across the board over winter as people are still adjusting,” Whitehart says. “But from what I’ve seen in Melbourne and in other cities across Australia in the past 12 months, people are just excited to be out again.”
With the rise in confidence, a slew of bars has opened in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and other major cities in the country.
“One of the things you’re starting to see is a lot more owner-operators like Dani and me opening up,” explains Whitehart, “people who have skin in the game and have been working in the industry for a really long time, which is super positive.”
Across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand, bar owners are still recovering following an equally difficult pandemic era. “There are many challenges in the hospo scene here,” says Dany Dentith, co-owner of another new 2023 opening, Auckland bar Panacea. “Staffing a venue is difficult at the moment. There is an ever-shrinking pool of humans to choose from and train and nurture. Equally, there is a strong absence of leaders.”
Despite the uncertainty, Dentith says the reception to Panacea, a bar with no back bar, where cocktails are batch-prepared fresh for each service, has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Guests have embraced the style of service with open arms. There are a lot of opportunities here at the moment for opening new small bars. If you are creative and have a fresh approach to what a bar should be, then you will do well.”
There’s no doubt there are still headwinds to push through for the on-premise in Australia and New Zealand. But there is renewal here, too. The dynamic has created space for younger owner-operators to get in the door and open their own bars. It will take time, but soon the industry will have a new crop of leaders driving the industry forward.
Bars to watch in 2024
Bar Bellamy – Melbourne, Australia
Bar Bellamy is the Euro-inspired spot that everyone wants around the corner. Located in Melbourne’s inner-city suburb of Carlton, renowned for its Italian heritage and restaurants, the bar was founded by Oska and Danielle Whitehart, and has quickly found a devoted audience. “We’re a cocktail bar first and foremost,” says Oska (pictured above), “but with a big focus on food, a great selection of spirits, a great selection of wines and beers, a bit of everything.” But there’s no scattergun approach here. The hospitality veterans have ensured that every element of this combination venue, from the creative, seasonal cocktail and food menus, to the warm and attentive service, can match it with the best offerings you’ll find anywhere in the region.
The Waratah – Sydney, Australia
One of Australia’s most highly anticipated openings of 2023, The Waratah is slated to welcome customers through its doors in early December. The double-decker bar and restaurant is located in the inner Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst, and offers a ‘split’ concept. The downstairs Public Bar will focus on Australian brewers, winemakers, and producers. Four cocktails, illuminated behind the bar will change weekly, according to what’s available from local growers, while the food offering will be pub-inspired. Upstairs in the table-service Terrace Bar, there will be a more modern take. Menus will slant to the contemporary and the technical, and dive deeper into what seasonality looks like in Australia.
Panacea – Auckland, New Zealand
Located in what could be mistaken for another office building in Auckland’s Central Panacea is a step-change for the New Zealand cocktail scene. The bar is the creation of British-born Dany Dentith, his partner Sheena Thomas, and bar manager Theo Tjandra. Except, there’s no actual bar in the venue – no shaker tins, no speed rails – because the cocktails are pre-prepared fresh every day. By removing the made-to-order format, Panacea reduces wastage – there are no excess ingredients here. As a result, the team have more time to talk through the intricately designed drinks and food programme, and show guests into the dimly lit whisky room.