Opening a bar? Here’s how not to spend your cash


Story by Charlie Lehmann
Charlie is the co-owner of Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern in Sydney, and is an eBay jedi.

once bought a pair of edible undies —turned out to not be the practical sexy time I thought it would entail (yes, anatomy gets stuck especially if it’s sticky), and as I threw them away I thought to myself, what a waste of $15, I could’ve bought at least three beers with that and had a way better time.

We have all made purchases that we either instantly regret, or get home and open the package and think  “Shit! What was I smoking? Why did I buy this Jersey Shore talking pen?” But then again it’s a part of growing up and being an adult. No, you don’t need to blow money on sauna pants.

However, when making it rain for your bar you initially think that every purchase is justified — until you actually never use something, it breaks or is misplaced or stolen on a busy Friday shift. So here I confess to you that there were many purchases made by us in the early days of Rascal that never saw the light of day or are sitting on our walls but were so exorbitantly over priced that I can’t bear to take it down for fear of not using every dollar of its worth.


You can generally break these frivolous purchases/decisions up in to four categories, these include:

•The Water Fountain: items that you decorate the bar with but are of no necessity or are way too expensive to justify, even though they are beautiful to look at.

•Uber-Pro, Gold-Plated Speed Pourer: this category covers the incessant need to obtain the best bar tools coz you need to look fly while making your Vodka Rickey.

•Mum’s Donation: the stuff that family, mates, Davo from down the road or that creepy uncle that you’ve only met once “donates” to your worthy cause… for $100. Oh! And you have to come pick it up too.

•Pure, Pulse, Pusher For The Product: the idea that you need an A3 advertising spread in Albury-Wodonga’s local catholic newsletter to better get your brand out there.

I’m sure there are more categories but these I feel these are the necessary ones to cover for the discerning bar entrepreneur.

The Water Fountain
You need your bar to look pimp, so you go out and buy a giraffe. Was this necessary? No. Is it cool? I’d be impressed. At Rascal I travelled far and wide to obtain rare and antiquated items to throw on the walls and behind the bar but it definitely was not necessary to buy the $200 cigar tin box that we now use as a tip jar. When sourcing the items you want for your bar it is best to look for bargains and the cheaper options for the majority of but not all of your items. Things like frames are a bargain at Ikea but will bust your nut if you go to a pro framer. Only use those dudes for pieces you want to stand out or accentuate.

Uber-Pro, Gold-Plated Speed Pourer
Cocktail nerds unite with your leather bound bar kits made by virgin deities of a distant land. Every bar has that tool that sits and collects dust. What does it do? I don’t know but it was a good idea to buy it at the time so shut up!

We made some boss decisions, like buying a mechanical juicer, but then we kooked it when we purchased a warming oven for the food that we were supposedly going to serve; we never served any food from it. When shopping for bar tools QCC is sometimes necessary but is way too over priced when you have options like barGEEK or hospitality suppliers that can give you discounts on essential items. I know you look slick with your copper bar spoon while you stir down a Chocolate Smoked Sazerac but dude it’s not worth the $50 you paid when a regular old bar spoon for $10 will suffice, or those antique martini glasses from 1920 that cost $45 a pop that the hens party that just rolled through placed so neatly in their handbags. Yeah, that happened to us too.

Mum’s Donation
When you start your project of opening your bar everyone is going to want to help, whether it be big or small. But don’t be afraid to say no, shit will build up in your storage space real fast and at times you’ll be paying for said shit that you don’t need. Take the two fridges I purchased off my mother for Rascal. In the beginning I thought it would be necessary but alas who needs 5 fridges in a venue that accommodates 120 people. Trust me, not us. Anyone need a fridge? What’s worse is the supposedly cheap deal you’re getting for something you don’t really need.

Pure, Pulse, Pusher For The Product
As a Rascal we were lucky to come from the school of Swillhouse where we never mentioned the idea of a marketing or advertising budget. [Co-owner] Jason Scott was always of the belief that if you provide a great and original product the people will come, so likewise we never threw money at this.

But we all know of bars that love to push their brand on to the drinking public, which is fine, especially for the larger companies, but starting out as a small bar operator you only have so much of a budget that marketing and advertising are not necessary. Put your cash into having a more durable form of bar stools or a higher quality of granny smith apple. Eventually publications will take notice of your quality product and will come to you.

The best way to avoid these things is to assess your funds, write a list of items you think are necessary then cut that by half; shop around for the best price, compromise on some items, and spend big on others. It’s sweet to spend money on an old map of Cognac in an 1870’s frame or you could just get your brand rep to buy one for you.

Now I’m hitting up this thing called eBay, I’m in a bidding war with a 12 year old for a pet lion. Rascal needs this!

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