Society – great name for a bar, and good location. It’s just around the corner from all the action in Salamanca. Montpelier Street, to be precise. And they sport long casement windows in their street frontage, passed by hundreds, sometimes thousands, a day. So what’s wrong?
This is what’s wrong: The owners, two young women who should know better, don’t understand the meaning of the business they’re in. And what a shame that is. There’s no “Hi!” in this Society, can I tell you.
This bar needed a lift. It was a failed Cider Bar first, then two enterprising young women took it on, did a smart fit-out with pressed tin, mood lighting, and comfy chairs. They boast the biggest gin collection this side of the Bass Strait, and mix a mean cocktail.
They have a young guy behind the bar who knows his stuff, and the girls know their mixology. But that’s where it ends. A good friend of mine used to call in and drop hundreds of bucks at the bar. He stopped going. You know why? Because the ‘hosts’ never remembered him. Not once. Not his name (he introduced himself twice), not his brew of choice, nothing.
I’ve been there several times, and the girls don’t even look up when they’re clearing your table. No eye contact, no welcome, no ‘how are you tonight?’ Nothing. Or less than nothing. They have the capacity to suck the light out of a lemon.
And I know it’s not been easy. The place doesn’t have a kitchen, but the enterprising owners have come up with clever alternatives. They have Pinxtos (Tapas) nights on a Tuesday, with tasty and well priced bites at $2 each. Other nights, they bring in guest cooks, and advertise a theme.
We decided to swoop on a recent Paella night, thinking that maybe the girls had developed some people skills, instead of the personality by-pass that seems to be extant. But no! The highlight of the night was Edrik, the cook who presided over 3 massive Paelleras, or paella pans, and dished out rice with chat.
Edrik isn’t a chef, and he’s not even Spanish, and there was a major slip-up with his third paella. But the rice and sofrito were terrific, and at $16- $19, depending on the seafood, good value. We had booked for the third paella, the one with squid, mussels and ‘slipper lobster’, which were Moreton Bay Bugs, or Sydney bugs.
And there they were, resplendent on top of a huge disc of rice, whole! Yes, whole. Edrik had not thought to cleaver them in two, so we had to somehow break off the heads and gouge the meat out of the tails. Not easy from a 6 inch plate on a narrow bar table. The bugs themselves were powdery, overcooked, and not a great experiment. Edrik told us they were local ‘slipper lobsters’, well, maybe, but these little guys usually grow in warm waters, so what these reverse Mexicans were doing down here, I don’t know.
Salmon was the fish in the paella, not nearly as good as the usual white fish. Paella is a dish with oil and fat, and needs the fresh taste of a white fish to balance the texture and flavour. And for me? The chorizo was missing. And the lemon, to provide the acid and draw the flavours together.
But, it was still pleasant, and plenty of it. To wash it down, we enjoyed several glasses of the Joseph Chromy Pinot Gris, a delicious drop. At $12 a glass, not bad.
By this time, it was heading about 11pm, one of the girls was enjoying a wine behind the bar, and scowled as a big group of hipsters wandered in. And ordered drinks. Lots of them.
All we could think of was why? Why be here if you don’t enjoy it? Why open a bar? And if it’s not a good personality fit, then recognize that, and pay someone who gets it. Who’ll build your business and clientele for you, and enjoy it. Win/win!
As we strolled out into the night, and by this time the bar was again half full with late-night revelers, we noticed the sad almost tragic use of the window space. Again, such a missed opportunity. Faded shabby black cloth with a few dusty bottles of gin, and a couple of old signs, tottering over. I rest my case.
It saddens me to see such good ideas, fit-out, and location just miss the mark by such a long margin. One that’s so easy to fix. If you, as an owner, don’t enjoy the business, either don’t do it, or pay someone else to. Go and do something else, out the back, anywhere, but stay away from customers who expect a little hospitality in their venues.
Would you like to see the ‘Hi!’ back in Society?