Black Kite Commune
30 Russell Place Melbourne
From the team behind Melbourne Icons Gin Palace, Bar Ampere and bijou bottle store comes the newest addition to the Russell Place Hospitality assemblage – Black Kite Commune. A full table service cocktail and wine bar championing Australian products alongside international staples.
Inspired by supper clubs of Melbourne’s early 1900s, owner Ben Luzz reimagined the existing space to be a moody, sexy beacon for those that enjoy the nightlife. The cocktail list was curated by venue manager Jess Clayfield (ex-Gin Palace) where she moved beyond the trend of seasonality and instead created a cocktail symphony via synesthesia. The back bar offers the perfect balance of light and dark spirits with several extremely rare bottlings for the discerning drinker. The concise wine list offers palate profiles from Light and Bright to Rich & Lush to Skinsy & Lo Fi.
Inspired by supper clubs of Melbourne’s early 1900s, owner Ben Luzz reimagined the existing space to be a moody, sexy beacon for those that enjoy the nightlife.
Walk in and be immediately distracted by the textured golden tiled backbar bejewelled with luxe, rare and quality liquor, while you decide which seat to settle into. Are you a ‘seat at the bar’ person who prefers to see the magic of the staff expertly stir, shake and tweeze from behind the custom-designed ‘No Step’ bar? If that’s too close to the action, a bar table by the window or a fresco table along the balcony outside. If you prefer a more private and luxe experience you can sift through the refined and plentiful list of Magnums and Jeroboams from your own private booth upstairs in the loft, where you can simply press a golden button for service.
With a sharp fit-out by Michael Delaney and clever branding by Studio Calero, Black Kite Commune is a great addition to the creative Bar industry in Melbourne. Black Kite Commune provides the mood and warmth for winter in Melbourne and the light and space for gorgeous summers.
While the liquids on these menus are the true hero, the bar food are their perfect accompaniment; creative, Australian produce forward, and available until close.
Q&A with Bar Operator Ben Luzz
Things have been busy for you with a couple of new openings – Bijou & Black Kite Commune. What inspired you to get back into opening new venues?
Largely boredom in the case of bijou bottle store and honestly I was really bored. Opening a new venue is a crazy amount of work and the lockdowns gave me a lot of time to contemplate what I was doing and where I was going. Also knowing that we would have several more lockdowns I was trying to covid proof the group by opening something that could stay open for takeaway.
Also, it’s what I love doing, building or rebuilding a business is where the thrill is. Once it’s open and ticking and systems are in place I get bored again. bijou was busy from day one so it didn’t take long for me to step back and let the team do their thing. Kelsey Stringer and Bran Kinsella have seen it grow to just about as busy as it can get and have done an amazing job with building a team and killing it with service and product.
“Another reason to open a fourth venue is to give valued staff a pathway within the company and help them grow in the industry. Covid showed us we need to nurture people to stay in the industry as it’s all too easy to leave for a day job.”
I guess this is where Black Kite comes in. Con Christopoulos hadn’t reopened Neapoli at the other end of Russell Place and with the other three venues at capacity, it just seemed obvious to open it again and not have any “for lease” signs on the laneway. Jess Clayfield was AVM at Gin Palace and was about to head overseas. She’s been such an asset to the growth of GP I wanted to keep her for as long as possible so offered her the VM role at BKC. Another reason to open a fourth venue is to give valued staff a pathway within the company and help them grow in the industry. Covid showed us we need to nurture people to stay in the industry as it’s all too easy to leave for a day job.
How have things been in Melbourne, post-pandemic?
We are having the best days, weeks and months on record. I know some other businesses have struggled or closed and I feel for them, but we keep going from strength to strength. We reopened 7 days a week immediately and saw Mondays do Thursday sales as most places couldn’t open every day.
The hardest aspect post-pandemic has been getting everyone to loosen up. A lot in the industry felt the need to keep enforcing rules that were no longer mandated. I spent a lot of time reminding our staff that people don’t go out for rules. Bars are a place to relax and loosen up and as long as they’re not being dicks, customers should feel comfortable (even encouraged) to let their hair down.
You were in partnership with the legendary Vernon Chalker, I’m sure you still fill his loss, especially in Gin Palace. How has that been for you?
It was incredibly hard to come together as a group of friends and grieve due to his passing away at the beginning of the lockdowns. It seemed to drag it out for all of us as we had one on one Zoom chats to mourn for months and months, martinis in hand obviously.
Pearls has organised a few commemorative days since which were an opportunity to get together and remember the good times. He’ll always be an integral part of Gin Palace, we still hear his voice in the venue.
What are your tips to other young prospective bar owners? Should they do it?
100% yes. but don’t just jump into it. I think everyone has their own path to opening a venue and mine might be totally different to others but here’s a few tips from my experience.
* Do a business course or read a small business book. Some of it is boring as all fuck but so are some parts of owning small business. You need to learn how to do the boring stuff like accounting. P&Ls are such an important tool and if you can’t read one, don’t open a bar until you do.
* Go out and look at every aspect of the venues you go to. Constructively criticise it in your head, and think about what you would fix if it was yours. Mark down the bits that wow you and why they wow you and how you could integrate that into your business plan. Don’t just go to high-end venues. I’ve found inspiration in small inexpensive venues doing great things.
* Go overseas and experience international bars, it’s tax deductable! Or at the very least follow as many bars as you can on Instagram.
* Go buy a little book today and start writing your ideas in there. If you have some concepts floating around, you might walk past that little empty shop with a for lease sign that will fit it perfectly.
* Speak to as many bar owners as you can, you’re not reinventing the wheel, its all been done before so listen and learn.
* Email me. I’m happy to sit down over a martini and offer some pointers.