Want some advice on opening a bar? Here’s Mike Enright’s tips

mike enright The Barber Shop's Mike Enright gives his advice on opening a bar
Mike Enright worked with the Sydney hospitality giant, Merivale, before branching out on his own with The Barber Shop, the 2016 Gin Bar of the Year. He’s also been in the pop-up game and launched a second outpost of The Barber Shop. Here, he gives his advice on opening a bar, finding a site, budgeting for the build and beyond, and working with builders.

On finding a site
I suppose, when we were looking at Baranagroo [his latest venue] for us that was a no brainer — it was a new area, they’d already done the maths on how many people were going to be based there, how many people would be visiting on a day to day basis.

With The Barber Shop York Street, what I found was there were bars popping up, and the way I saw it was it looked like it was going to be a new drinking district in the city — and it has turned out to be that.

Look for what kind of businesses are around the area, that could potentially help your business. That might be, what type of businesses are there, are they creative industries or all banks? What kinds of corporate businesses are there?

Consider lifestyle as well — is it just purely to own your own business, or do you want a lifestyle component? Like Neighbourhood in Bondi — Simon McGoram has an excellent lifestyle now, he can go to the beach halfway through his shift and have a swim!


You don’t really want to work in an area — and you’re going to spend lots of hours there — if you don’t really like that area. It’s got to work for you. And it’s got to work for the people you want to appeal to, because it’s going to have an impact on your concept, what you want to do, and how you’re going to deliver it.

On dealing with real estate agents for first-timers
Approach the commercial real estate agents. If you just go and see a few properties that have come up for lease, you’ll get on their database — then they’re constantly sending you what’s coming up for rent. Say that you’re kind of looking around at the moment, but you’re not desperate to do something straight away. What I found was, if I just go and look at places even if I know it’s not for me, chat to them, tell them what I’m after, and ask if there’s anything coming up in the area that I’m interested in, then that helps a lot.

You’re learning — it’s all learning. The more you chat to these people who do it on a day to day basis, the more it gives you a better idea.

On working out what you need in your budget
It’s tough, it depends where you work and what position you’re in; if you’re in management, then you kind of know roughly what bars take for a given size of a space, versus the licensing hours — you should have good idea of what you can make. But — obviously — aim low.

In terms of set up costs, when you are doing your budget, work out how much it’s going to cost you in furniture, bar equipment, glassware, everything — you can’t leave a stone unturned. Because what will happen, once you’re into the build, there’ll be one tile versus another one; one’s probably cheaper than the other and you’ll want to go the more expensive one if you can, so you’ve got to find additional funds to get you across the line before you open the doors and start taking money. Most people I know who have opened bars and restaurants, they’ve said that it’s cost them another 30% over their budget. Unless you’re a real cheapskate!

As soon as you have opened the doors, get your bookkeeper in place. They’re worth their weight in gold. You’re very busy with doing everything else, the last thing you want to be doing is to be massaging those numbers and the debts you’ve got because you generally will owe the builder his last payment, and whoever else. You’ve got all this stock that you’ve ordered but you’ve got to pay for it four weeks later. If you’re not on top of all that, you can quite easily get in trouble.

And make sure you’ve got all your tax business sorted out — don’t think that because you’ve taken 10 grand in the first week that it’s yours!

On the importance of good creative people
Designers and architects are important; a good architect will get all the drawings in line with your DA, and he or she will be fully versed on what you can and can’t do, the specifics, so you don’t come a cropper with the council later.

The designing part, the look and feel, a designer helps — we had a designer to begin with who was a set designer, and was way cheaper than an interior design company. But unless they know exactly what you’ve got in your head it’s very difficult for them to design it.

On dealing with builders
Get a few different quotes, and make sure you get references, from something they’ve worked on. If you get a good feel for the person and you feel like you’re going to get on, that’s the main thing. If you don’t get a great feel from that person, don’t employ them to be your contractor.

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