ANDY Freeman opened Varnish on King five years ago when it was the “dirty end of the King Street” and talks to the Western Suburbs Weekly about how the Perth small bar scene has evolved.
1. What was the small bar/restaurant scene like in Perth when you first started out?
Varnish on King is a wine bar, which is my true passion, with America whiskey which was hot at the time. The small bar licence came to Perth about 10 years ago but at the time I started Varnish on King this area was a bit precarious because a cocktail bar had closed down because of the neighbours. We opened with a lot of sensitivity. It took me 12 months to convince them “you have to trust me”. It’s now becoming an institution.
2. How has it changed?
King Street is a work in progress. The neighbours have warmed to us a lot and there is a mix of retailers like Zomp, Linneys and Uncle Joe’s. Yagan Square is now at the end of King Street, which is becoming a pedestrian thoroughfare, so that adds to the security. We’ve accidentally built our own precinct.
3. How have you got through the challenging times?
Our retention of senior staff is one of our key successes. Culture is one of the most important things, as is making people feel welcome. The consistency of a familiar face is also very important. We have been very tenacious in our activations and we have fresh concepts that are different to our competition. Food, music, staff and booze are equally important as one another. Our brand is bars but we don’t just roll out sausage rolls.
4. How do hospitality operators work together in Perth?
We have a pretty good tight-knit community here, a casual syndicate of people who share intel about things. We love the relationship we have with our neighbours. There’s a new breed coming through.
5. What is your local coffee shop?
Yelo in Trigg is my local. Uncle Joe’s is my morning coffee ritual.