OPERATOR FOCUS: Paul Glen and James Hiller, Adelaide


Paul Glen and James Hiller (Botanic Bar, Electric Circus, Rocket Bar, and Limbo) spill the beans on their burgeoning bar empire

Interview by Simon McGoram


Photography courtesy of venue

How did you two get first get involved in the hospitality industry?

PG: “I first got involved in Hospitality in 1994 deejaying around bars and clubs in my hometown Edinburgh. After migrating to Australia in 2000 and working in construction, I opened a record store under the name Electric Circus. This organically led to an involvement in running nights around Adelaide and recognition that there was a lack of a consistently high quality music venue in the Adelaide market.”

JH: “I am originally from Adelaide. I have worked in the fruit and vegetable industry for the last eleven years, and became involved as a silent partner at the Botanic Bar nearly eight years ago. When the partnership dissolved I was left holding the baby, so to speak, with little experience. I learnt the basics the hard way, but found it an invigorating industry to be involved with.”

How did you get into business together?

PG: “While running the record store in the space that has just recently become Limbo, I met James who became a regular customer and already owned Botanic Bar. We just got chatting about a space that had become available, one day and decided there and then that we would go for it. The lease was signed nine days later.”

JH: “The space in question was formerly a club that we used to go to. We had always loved going there and we were rapt when it closed down. A great building right in the heart of the West End – priceless.”

Now you’ve just opened Limbo in between your already successful Rocket Bar and Electric Circus. What were the biggest challenges with this project?

PG: “By far the biggest challenge for me was managing my time which is spread thinly between running the existing two venues and involvement in the growing Adelaide music festival scene with Stereosonic, Parklife and other large scale upcoming events. Being so heavily involved in all facets of the venue from design to construction certainly ‘pulled me in different directions’, to put it mildly.”

JH: “Trying to come up with interesting reasons why the venue wasn’t open on time.”

How has the venue been received thus far? And how does it compliment the other two venues?

PG: “The venue has been received extremely well… Downstairs, Electric Circus has become increasingly popular as a boutique night club venue. Similarly, it provides an ‘escape’ from a busy live music night at above at Rocket Bar. Therefore the introduction of Limbo has allowed us to maintain a more cocktail lounge element to an increasingly busy building.”

JH: “People have been very kind.”


What lessons have you learnt from previous projects that you’ve been able to apply to this new venue?

PG: “Definitely the use of space. Learning through trial and error in existing venues how people move around a particular space, how it works for staff logistically and the feel upon entering an area has allowed us to create a room that ‘works’ from the opening night.”

JH: “Ditto. Also not to get fixated on the use of expensive or standout materials. I find that the thing you love the most is going to be either unnoticed or destroyed early in the life of the venue. Everything needs to be repairable or replaceable easily.”

What is the most positive aspect about owning a licensed venue in Adelaide?

PG: “That is a tough one… Ha ha! In many ways Adelaide can be a very insular market. So the ability to step outside and bring a new element to a city that carries a stigma for a lack of nightlife is a rewarding part of industry.”

JH: “It’s where I met my wife.”

And the most negative?

PG: “The insular Adelaide market. For the same reason that invigorating it is exciting there is not the same number of venue operators creating new and exciting spaces as in Sydney and Melbourne.”

JH: “The government’s crackdown on criminal behaviour in the industry has made all operators have to be very diligent about conforming to the very letter of all licensing laws. The level of police presence is quite remarkable at times, and a lot different to the more casual nature of running a venue only 5 years ago. Like all things, you become accustomed, but we do get wistful from time to time.”

What sets your venues apart from other Adelaide bars and nightclubs?

PG: “The back end work that goes into all of our venues, essentially if something is not working, we’ll change it. So, rather than allowing aspects of a venue to detract from it as a whole, we will look at changing these aspects to positive factors that invigorate the venue.”

What excites you about this industry?

PG: “Fast paced and constantly changing…”

JH: “It is endlessly refreshed. Kids will always want to have fun, and a new crop of them reach legal age every year.”


Your obviously music fans. When did your love affair with the entertainment industry begin?

PG: “At the early age of seventeen frequenting Pubs, clubs, live music venues and house parties in Edinburgh and throughout Europe in the 90’s. My interest in this lifestyle and the people that revolves around it has never dwindled.”

JH: “Paul is more passionate than me and more deeply involved. I have more of a platonic friendship with the entertainment industry. I am often very impressed though by some of the amazing acts that have played for us.”

Where to next? Are there plans for more venues in the future?

PG: “Definitely, new and exciting venues… And new additions to the Adelaide Festival scene as well.”

JH: “Whenever a great building becomes vacant…”

Paul & James Top 5 Tips for the Budding Bar Operator

1. Constantly think what it feels like to walk into your venue for the first time.

2. Have an eye for detail.

3. Focus on the aspect of the industry that you love and build around it. Drinks if you’re a bartender, music if you’re a deejay.

4. No matter how hung-over be in at 8am Monday morning to start the next week.

5. Behind the scenes should operate smoothly. What people don’t see is often more important than what they do…

This story featured in the August ’09 issue of Australian Bartender Magazine.

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