Meet Bouvardia: A new Melbourne bar focussed on rethinking hospitality

We know it’s lockdown right now in Melbourne but we thought we’d share this recent review of a new bar in the country’s nightlife capital. They are currently closed but you can buy canned cocktails from the link below.

BOUVARDIA, Level 2, 169 Bourke Street, Melbourne

Bouvardia is an innovative cocktail bar on level 2 off at 169 Bourke Street in the CBD, oozing mid modern century style run by a team looking to push the boundaries of modern drinking. Bouvardia has a focus on what they call ‘produce and process’ – and a reimagining of what a hospitality venue should look like in 2021.

The drinks program borrows from flavour innovators from the entire spectrum of our industry, whether it is a cocktail based around Isoamyl Acetate (the chemical compound that tastes like banana) or championing a locally grown celery and using all parts of the produce to construct a drink. You won’t see anything on their drinks program that resembles a ‘classic cocktail’ – they are rebuilding and reimagining the template that modern bartenders use to construct drinks.

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The venue is operated by a collection of industry pros and emerging talent – lead by Dom Garreffa, formerly of Attica. Service and experience will be paramount for the 50-capacity space, as they aim to offer the same top notch service seen in the Melbourne dining industry.

“This is the venue that will reflect the immediate change we want to see in our industry – the core of which will be our approach to operating a sustainable and community-conscious business – with an important focus on sustainability of our hospitality profession and providing working conditions that promote long term development, something the guest will never see but will definitely experience,” say the team.
They also have a ‘local first’ approach, stocking a small and concise local product range – and importantly, creating relationships with producers that share the same values of ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’ as Bouvardia.

“You won’t see anything on our drinks program that resembles a ‘classic cocktail’ – we are rebuilding and reimagining the template that modern bartenders use to construct drinks. If I can articulate it bluntly, Bouvardia is hyper creativity and being freed from the assumption of what a bar should be.” – Dom Garreffa, Operator

This is a bar that aims to disrupt the market and do things differently. “We want to rethink what it means to work and thrive in hospitality – and provide an experience that matches our venues ambitions. We want to push the boundaries of modern drinking,” they say.
In addition to Bouvardia there is a rooftop space called Pomelo with the entrance via a stairwell on Melbourne Place. Pomelo is the fun-loving, sun drenched rooftop bar inspired by 80s Miami Art Deco and Memphis design – wacky shapes and bold colours and named after the grand-daddy of the citrus world, the Pomelo.

Come summer and post-Covid, Pomelo will be offering a range of irreverent slushies – think frozen Japanese Slippers or frozen Blue Lagoons – that you can sip on in the sun overlooking the Bourke/Russel intersection.

The Pomelo team will also be creating, carbonating and canning their own range of canned seltzers and spritzes – creating a close-loop waste program with Bouvardia, where they will use all their cocktail production wastage and repurpose it for their canned program.

Q&A: DOM GARREFFA, OPERATOR

What’s the attraction of the bar business for you?
The ability to have a positive impact on someone’s day by being in service to them. There is something profound about being able to change someone’s mood or provide someone an experience by being kind, generous and informed. Outside of service, sharing this experience with like minded professionals, people who have the same irrepressible, illogical love for hospitality. There is no bond greater than being knees deep in the weeds with someone that loves the chaos as much as you.

Tell me a little about your business, Bouvardia?
The idea for Bouvardia was born out of 2020 – and our desire to rethink what it means to operate a hospitality business in what we understood was a new era in Melbourne. We want to reflect the changes that we want to see in our industry and to represent what we think should be considered a ‘modern cocktail bar’. The core of which will be our approach to operating a sustainable and community-conscious  business – with an important focus on sustainability of our hospitality profession and providing working conditions that promote long term development, something the guest will never see but will definitely experience.

You won’t see anything on our drinks program that resembles a ‘classic cocktail’ – we are rebuilding and reimagining the template that modern bartenders use to construct drinks.
If I can articulate it bluntly, Bouvardia is hyper creativity and being freed from the assumption of what a bar should be.

Tell us a bit about the journey of opening a bar in a pandemic?
Scary, brutal but ultimately heartwarming. We have taken a lot of time and consideration to put together an incredible team, a team that believes in our project and everything we are trying to achieve. Our biggest fear was failing our incredible team – due to circumstances beyond our control. No control over the success of our project or the success of our team. After coming out of a 2 week lockdown in Melbourne after being open for a short period of time and our new project being in such a precarious positions – the bounce back was heart warming. Our guests and hospitality friends were so incredibly generous in supporting us when we reopened. It made that lockdown and its potential unendingness feel like a fever dream.

How do you continually develop your creative ideas?
By being open to being weird, to be challenging and confusing. The sentiment that ‘there are no bad ideas’ is a powerful one. Really it is about continually learning and reading and absorbing – taking inspiration from everything. If I could give anyone some advice, it would be to not confine your inspiration to old cocktail books. Find creativity in architecture, biology or your Mum’s cooking – anything you can draw from and be inspired by.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Everywhere! I love to showcase local producers or to utilise a local product that I believe shares the same values and ethos as myself. But really it is anything! I’m inspired by chemical compounds, my favourite dishes at my favourite restaurants. By the food that I grew up eating or by David Bowie. Ultimately, I’m inspired to challenge people. And to make yummy drinks, that’s the number one rule.

What excites you about the Melbourne bar industry?
I am excited by the undying support that our industry has for each other. The Melbourne hospitality industry has been through some dark times and we have seen some incredible business not survive through to 2021 – and still we are as passionate and committed as ever. I am also excited to see small, independent operators excel and be creative. Support your local. You don’t need an expensive fit out or an eye-watering lease to create an incredible experience.

What can it use more of? Less of?
We could use more support for local producers. We produce world class spirits in Victoria, the progression of quality over the last 5-10 years has been astounding. Instead of our industry being lead by international brands, we should be supporting our amazing local producers and growers.
We could use less ego in our industry. It might be cool and exciting to use an obscure ingredient or to finally make that beetroot cocktail work, but your true value lies in the way you treat people – being generous and kind to everyone

Where do you see yourself in five years? Anything exciting on the cards?
I see the next 5 years being incredibly exciting for Melbourne hospitality. It will be a period of reform and rethinking – and the opportunities that it will provide will be very exciting. My only ambition is to be a positive influence on our industry and the people that help shape it.

What mistakes have taught you the most important lessons?
My biggest learning curves in my career have been when I make mistakes. My biggest mistake has been drawing interest from internal motivations – whether its making drinks I want to drink, trying to fit in with a certain culture or thinking I have nothing else to learn. My most important lesson is that my value as a professional – and as a human – is based on how I treat people and how I can be of service to them. Losing your ego in hospitality is an important and necessary lesson.

Are there any local or international bar operators that you admire? Why?
I admire Ryan Chetiyawardana and Luke Whearty for their ingenuity. I’ll fight anyone that disagrees that Luke Whearty is making the best drinks in the country. I always look to the restaurant industry for inspiration. I admire Rene Redzepi for his uncompromising pursuit of flavour and ability to rethink. I admire Ben Shewry for the inspiration and passion he inspires – and his punk attitude to operating. Honestly, I admire every bar operator this side of 2021 that still services their community and has an enduring passion for hospitality.

How important are staff in operating a successful business?
It really is the only thing that is important. Hospitality businesses are only successful because of the people you have in your business. A parameter of success for a business is how well you have developed your team and the conditions that they worked under. Equally as important is the tools that you have given them after leaving your business and the way they have developed professionally – and personally. To me, that’s what a successful business looks like.

What are you drinking now?
I’m drinking Moon Dog Seltzers, Sailors Grave Umami Ale and Arfion ‘Smokestack Lightning’ Skin Contact Gewurztraminer.

 

 

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