A cursory glance at any commercial real estate website in WA these days might make you think that the city has recently instituted prohibition laws – the number of Perth bars on the market is truly staggering.
So what’s the story? The cocktail scene in Perth has been thriving for years now, likewise the craft beer and spirits scenes are constantly on the up. If that is the case, why are – seemingly – more and more drinkers avoiding a night out on the town?
According to a veteran local bar manager, there are a lot of inexperienced operators that set up shop without any real purpose, except to make money in the big spending climate of the mining boom.
Unfortunately, now the dollars have dried up as the mining boom recedes, some of the more “mediocre” bars – that haven’t “added anything to the bar culture” of the city – are finding that their patrons are withdrawing their custom, leaving them high and dry in a shrinking economy.
The flipside of that, says the bar manager, is that a lot of great suburban Perth bars are suffering with the move of patrons back into the CBD and away from areas that were once thriving.
With venues in the city and Northbridge areas “upping their game”, places that were once avoided like the plague by locals as recently as ten years ago are now thriving hospitality centres.
The example of Must Wine Bar comes up – it’s a fantastic venue that was, a few years ago, impossible to get into, with patrons standing five-deep at the bar for service at 6pm. Now, with the CBD upping its game, a patron could walk in and get a seat at the bar with no trouble on a weekend.
That insider’s opinion is corroborated by another bar industry source on the supplier side.
They say the evidence is coming thick and fast that the liquor trade in the on- and off-premise is struggling, despite the continued development of new Perth bars.
They also mention the furore from last year when the 399 Bar operator complained about the amount of pop up bars and new bars creating too much competition in a city that doesn’t have the population of somewhere like Melbourne or Sydney that can absorb a glut of drinking holes.
The industry was split at that point over whether bar losses were a result of poor management, with operators from bars maintaining their clientele coming out to defend their service records.
However, the industry in Perth is acknowledging the downturn in subtle ways – the recent slew of CBD and Northbridge bars getting behind Andy Freeman and Tim McLernon’s “Let’s Thursday Like We Friday” campaign is evidence of that.
The supplier also notes that despite the success of the Thursday night trade push, the big corporate dollar spends that were common during the mining boom have dried up, with a number of venues ceasing lunch trade because of it.
All the doom and gloom has a flip side. Perth bars, and the resultant cocktail scene, deserve the props they have been getting in national and international media, and the number of successful venues that are creating truly interesting drinking experiences is absolutely inspirational.
As to what is the answer? We’ll have to wait and see.