When Adam Barton spied the awards, he realised the enormity of what he was taking on.
It was back in November when long-time Bowery owner Stephanie Camfell approached Barton, asking if he knew anyone who would be interested in purchasing the bar. Barton didn’t, but two weeks later he got back in touch: “I said, ‘We’re actually interested ourselves.’”
Barton, Brooklyn Standard and Fat Angel business partner Manny Sakellarakis, and group general manager Harlen Pointing hadn’t intended to take on another venue, but The Bowery is a Brisbane icon. For much of the past decade and a half it’s been the bar by which everything else in Fortitude Valley has been measured. From a punter’s perspective, if you’re aged between 20 and 50 and ever partied in the Valley, you likely have a Bowery story or two. For Barton and co, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“So, through the craziness of Christmas and New Year’s we got the deal done,” Barton says. “We took over on January 2.”
The result is that at the end of the month The Bowery will serve its last drinks. Ten days later, Barton, Sakellarakis and Pointing – a co-owner in the new venture – will reopen the space as a Hawaiian-themed dive bar called Suzie Wong’s Good Time Bar.
But back to those awards. Think of any major Australian bar, cocktail or bartender gong of the past 16 years, and The Bowery has probably won it at some time or another – perhaps multiple times.
“The one thing Steph wanted from the bar was her awards,” Barton says. “To take over a venue that has won that much acclaim, it’s a huge responsibility. It’s a massive responsibility to close The Bowery. We’ve been planning this seven days a week for a month now. It’s too big not to get right.”
So why not simply keep the venue as The Bowery?
“We had to lean into what we know,” Pointing explains. “We want to do something that’s our style. The Bowery is beautiful and it’s had a great run but it’s not what we do.”
What Barton, Pointing and Sakellarakis do is best exemplified by Brooklyn Standard: terrific live music, approachable short-order drinks and a rambunctious anything-goes atmosphere.
To look at, Suzie Wong’s will be very different to The Bowery. The team is ripping out the venue’s booths and building a dedicated stage on the dance floor. The entranceway will also be shifted to the very left of the facade and placed behind an internal partition, maximising the dance floor space (and you’ll no longer run the risk of someone pirouetting into your arms when you enter).
“It’s a lot of demolition work rather than construction,” Barton says. “Just to open it up. Right now it suits a cocktail bar, but it doesn’t work so well as a live music venue.”
“The bones of the venue will stay the same,” Pointing adds. “The bar will stay where it is, the toilets will stay where they are. Aesthetically, though, you won’t be able to recognise it when you walk in. We’re changing up the seating, the wallpaper, the pictures on the walls. It’s going to be a very different space.”
For drinks, Pointing is putting together an approachable list of tropical-style cocktails with a couple of tiki-style drinks thrown in for good measure. Otherwise, the big focus is Hawaiian craft beer. Kegs of Honolulu-based Kona Brewing’s lager, golden ale and IPA are already on order, with other brewers in the pipeline.
Still – make no mistake – Suzie Wong’s will first and foremost be about live music.
“We’re going to have party rock’n’roll, funk, rockabilly, blues,” Pointing says. “When you walk in you’ll want to dance for sure.”
“I described it to someone the other day,” Barton adds. “When Elvis was wrapping filming on Blue Hawaii for the day he would’ve gone to Suzie’s for a knock-off. That’s how it’s going to be.”
The Bowery will serve its last drinks on January 26. Suzie Wong’s Good Time Bar will open on February 6.