The Crypt in Ballarat is bringing a spooky twist to the old 18th Amendment thanks to mother-daughter team

The Crypt Ballarat
14 Camp Street, Ballarat Central VIC

Shani and Savannah Stevens purchased the 18th Amendment Bar in Ballarat from industry legend Gorge Camorra in late 2023. Gorge had decided to focus his attention on his two bars in Geelong. Savannah was managing 18th Amendment Ballarat for Gorge and the opportunity to take over the bar was something she could not pass up.

In February, the bar started trading under its new name, The Crypt.  It continues to be a unique bar in Ballarat with over 200 whiskeys, signature cocktails and mocktails, and many gins, vodkas, and wines.

We took the opportunity to interview this mother and daughter team on what it’s like to run a bar in Ballarat.

Tell us a bit about how you got started in the hospitality industry and where you have worked before.
Savannah: I had my start quite young as a kitchenhand, at a small country hotel in Creswick. I am most grateful for my time at Brown Grain and Gor Gai Thai Restaurants in Ballarat.  I spent 10 years working between the two Thai restaurants owned by the same people, Danny and Paula.  They taught me so much about working in the hospitality industry and about working hard. I gained a massive passion for customer service and got the opportunity to grow my skills within an amazing team, all of whom I still keep in contact with.  I loved working with my “Thai Family”, but after 10 years, I felt I needed a change. It was a very difficult decision.


How did you come to take over 18th Amendment Ballarat (now The Crypt Ballarat)? 
Shani:  Savannah had been working at 18th under the guidance of Gorge Camorra, who has been amazing. I had spoken briefly to Gorge saying how Savannah had really found her niche and how much she loved her new career path. We spoke about the possibility of a Joint Venture in the future.  Savannah came to me a few months later and advised that Gorge had asked if she would be interested in purchasing the bar.  She was thrilled, as was I.  Gorge knows Savannah has a lot to offer the industry and can take her career to great heights.  She most certainly has the passion and the drive to do so.  Fast forward a few months to November 2023, my daughter and I became Cocktail bar owners!

“Service is incredibly important to me wherever I go. I always treat Hospo staff with the utmost respect, as I know what a rough day can look like. I have so much admiration for Hospo baddies who can tough it all out and still put on a smile. That’s what it’s all about!” – Savannah Stevens

What changes have you implemented since taking over?
Shani: Early on, we kept things as they were – just settling into being owners was a big adjustment.  Although I have a lot of business experience, owning a bar was new to me, so it’s been a steep learning curve.   Savannah continued to Manage the bar and undertake all the creative side. For now, I have taken on managing events, administration, and finance.  We were always going to change the name, and on February 23rd this year, The Crypt Ballarat was launched.  With this came new cocktail and food menus, some internal décor changes etc.  We still are a specialist cocktail and spirit bar with that “underground, hidden” vibe but now cater to a wider, more diverse group of patrons.   More changes will evolve over the coming months.

What does a shift behind the bar at Crypt look like? Run us through a day in your shoes.
Savannah:  I usually try to get in pretty early.  I run past the local bakery before I get to the bar: I’m a sucker for a good caramel slice. I reply to a few emails, create plans for bookings, grab a pink Monster from the fridge and set up the bar. At The Crypt, each night is very different: I try to spend as much time as I can talk to our guests, providing top-tier customer service, and bantering with our fave regulars. On a more chill night, I like creating drinks with my team. We get into a bit of training and testing, building our skills together. After we’ve finished up last drinks, we’ll get into pack down, we’ve got a collaborative playlist that we throw on once our guests have left the venue. It’s a lot of fun.

What are some of the things you love about the bar industry?
Savannah: I genuinely really enjoy the chaos of it all. You never know how far a career in the industry can take you. You can accomplish so much: I’ve been paid to work music festivals, attended exclusive events, gained new skills, earned awards, met some incredible people and gained lifelong friends.

Tell us a bit about the bar scene in Ballarat.
Savannah: The Hospo scene in Ballarat is very tight for the most part.  There’s a great amount of recognition between venues of what we do.  There are plenty of amazing human beings on the scene: hard-working owners, managers, bartenders, waitstaff, and kitchenhands. We love to support each other’s businesses, it’s a wholesome community that I love to be a part of.  We actually decided to change our opening hours to include Monday nights.  Hospo staff usually work on the weekends, and there is hardly anything open in Ballarat on a Monday night.  Although The Crypt is open to the general public as well on Hospo night, we have a special discount we offer to Hospo staff.

Some of the things you hate?
Savannah: It pains me to see some staff at other venues overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, and sometimes unsafe at work. I find it really sad; there are some truly terrible bosses out there—not me, though!

What advice do you have for rookie bartenders starting out in their careers? Were there any big mistakes you made you’d like to see others avoid?
Savannah: Don’t be afraid to enter competitions or to show off your creations. I think it can be very daunting to showcase yourself to others; it can be scary to think about being criticised or rejected. The truth is that we all start somewhere, maybe there will never be a balanced way to include aioli in a cocktail,  but you never know until you try!

When you walk into a bar, what are you looking for? What makes a great bar experience?
Savannah: Service is incredibly important to me wherever I go. I always treat Hospo staff with the utmost respect, as I know what a rough day can look like. I have so much admiration for Hospo baddies who can tough it all out and still put on a smile. That’s what it’s all about!
Shani: I am obviously after a different vibe to my daughter, when I go out.  However, regardless of where I go,  I find the element that creates a great experience is how the staff interact with you and other patrons and how happy they seem to be in their position.

Funniest moment behind the bar.
Savannah: There are way too many silly moments to choose from, and definitely a few that I’ll take to my grave hahaha.
One story does come to mind.  This one is brought up all the time, so I don’t think I will ever get to live it down. I was on my tippy toes trying to get a 5L Negroni barrel down from a top shelf, I totally miscalculated, lost my grip, sent the barrel flying straight down onto about 20 wine glasses, crushing them into powder. Whoopsies!!

Best person to work with?
Savannah:  Honestly, I am incredibly lucky to have such a beautiful team. We have an adorable family vibe going on; I love all my babies to bits!!   (Just quietly, though, Jameon, Jarrin and Blair are my dearest darlings)

Who inspires you?
Savannah: I’m inspired by many people. I’m inspired by my Mother—an incredible businesswoman. I’m inspired by Gorge—what a legend. Also, there are many bar powerhouses from Geelong—shoutout to Damien Kos-Beckwith, Ana, Keenan, and Indra, just to name a few!
Shani: My daughter, Savannah. I am really in the background, and love watching my daughter do her thing!  I feel so blessed we have been able to take this journey together, and I am super excited to see where it leads.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Savannah: I’m a lot more involved in competitions. Ultimately, I would love to expand our venture across other venues. I’d love to mentor others in the industry, help others grow, and create opportunities for others in Hospo.
Shani:  Our aim is to own more than one bar. We would like to diversify to a variety of venue types to cater to all sectors of the community.