Josh Dolman, Ashley Wilson and Robert Denisoff always wanted to run a bar together. In 2016, they, with chef Andy Nowell, opened Sunny’s Pizza.

“We always wanted it to be a bar, but unfortunately it became a really amazing restaurant,” Dolman says. It’s the kind of problem other operators dream about. “We couldn’t control that. That’s just how people perceived it.”

So when the adjacent tenancy became available after Fairweather closed the team, with fourth partner Daniel Vaughan, set out to realise its original vision. The result is 1000 Island, which opened at the end of August. It's dimly lit and at times rowdy. There’s no food, no beer taps and a drinks menu loaded with concoctions to get your night going. It’s a bar that’s definitely a bar.

Situated in a back alley and flanked by construction sites, the location doesn’t scream “beach vibes”. But that was the task handed to designers James Brown and Claire Markwick-Smith of UFO Agencies, in collaboration with architects Studio Gram. Wilson says the brief was, “tiki-but-not-tiki”. “We wanted the drinks to be tiki [style] – rum-based, fruit-based – because they’re fun,” he explains. “[But] we didn’t want to have wooden carved totems and stuff like that.”

Instead, theres's a jumble of Aztec shapes, atomic age design, vintage film posters and abstract art – all shrouded in a neon glow. The anti-design aesthetic is strong – a more-is-more sensibility of clashing colours, kitsch decor, multiple textures and flashing coloured lights. Stepping off the street, patrons pass between zebra-print curtains before entering a timber-lined den that feels somewhere between a lounge bar and a ’70s porn set. The floor is tiled in fake terrazzo laminate – the sort you might uncover when ripping up old carpet – courtesy of Gumtree (and one bemused tradie who couldn’t understand why anyone would want it in 2019).

The drinks list is unashamedly indulgent and stacked with (often flaming) cocktails the owners – all of them seasoned bartenders – say are fun to make: Pina Coladas, Zombies, Mai Tais and so on. Everything – from the drinks and decor to the music – takes its cue from that sense of enjoyment.

Wilson’s directive to DJs is to play songs “on the edge of what’s appropriate for a bar”. Expect Afrobeats mixed with retro funk next to whatever feels good on the night. Staff and DJs use the venue’s soundtrack to steer the mood in the right direction, ramping up the tempo when the time is right. At some point each evening the tables get pushed back and a dance floor opens up. “It probably happened a bit too soon on the first night,” Wilson admits. “We had people dancing from 7.30pm or 8pm.” “And they burnt themselves out!” Dolman adds.

That opening weekend staff shook and served more than 250 Pina Coladas. Along with neighbours Cry Baby and Sunny’s, they’re proving Adelaide’s small (and not small) bar scene has room for more than Espresso Martinis, boutique gins and charcuterie served on wooden boards. The team is embracing a more boisterous style of nightlife than the West End has become known for. Wilson says the city needs places people can “get a bit rowdy [and not] feel like you’re ruining someone’s date”.

Thankfully, if you are on a date, or hungry for a snack, it should be easier to score a table next door now. A section of 1000 Island’s facade has been knocked through to create an additional 20-person dining room for Sunny’s.

1000 Island
15 Solomon Street, Adelaide
Hours:
Tue to Sun 5pm–2am
Mon closed

facebook.com/1000islandbar