Over the past decade as wine importers, James Audas and Tom Sheer have made countless trips to Europe. One of their favourite things to do on their travels is check out cool wine bars in Paris, where they often discover interesting bottles.
Now, their long-held dream of creating a similar experience back home is about to be realised, with the opening of Bar Heather in Byron Bay. Its vibe will be loud and fun, with a moodily lit room that’ll seat 60 people and have a soundtrack of Afrobeat and late-era disco.
The venue will be an extension of Luna Wine Store, which they opened just across the road in early 2020 to showcase small, independent wine producers from around the world. The drinks will be complemented with dishes by chef Ollie Wong-Hee, who met the pair via their import and distribution company, Lo-Fi Wines, while working at top restaurants including Ester and Sixpenny in Sydney, and Franklin in Hobart.
“I think we have an interest in getting Ollie to make food that works with the wine and not the other way around – which is the way menus are thought of nine out of 10 times,” Sheer says.
Audas – whose resume includes a stint in the sommelier team at one of the world’s best restaurants, René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen – says he wants to create a venue with a great vibe and plenty of surprises. “What we really loved about those early trips to Paris was that sense of discovery, and what I gained working at Noma was throwing people these beautiful bottles of wine that they hadn’t heard of,” he says. “It was amazing to introduce people to something special that they hadn’t had before.”
The pair have known each other since their school days and reconnected post-university, when they both worked at Black by Ezard (now Black Bar & Grill) at The Star Sydney. It was here that they had the “crazy idea” to import a bit of wine.
Audas now lives in Victoria’s Gippsland region, where he runs a vineyard called ARC Wines (which stands for A Random Collection), alongside his wife, Jess Audas. Sheer lives in Sydney, but both men will move north to oversee the opening.
With an ethos centred around sustainable farming, Bar Heather will have a strong focus on natural wines. Through Lo-Fo Wines, the pair have long been supplying to farm-to-table restaurants in the Northern Rivers region, including Harvest Newrybar; Ciao, Mate at Bangalow; and Fleet at Brunswick Heads. “It’s not just a trend – it’s something that’s become quite mainstream in Sydney and Melbourne,” Audas says. “People in Byron Bay seem to be on firm ground as far as what they eat and where their produce is sourced from, and wine is really no different,” adds Sheer.
With sommelier Ollie Smith (who previously worked at Sydney’s 10 William St) onboard, Bar Heather will offer wine from countries around the world, including France, Italy, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain, Georgia, Switzerland, South Africa and New Zealand.
The decor will be a “greatest hits” collection of things that have inspired them in their travels, with French timber floors, aged green leather banquettes, and a mortadella-coloured marble horseshoe bar.
Following the current trend of naming restaurants after important women in your life – such as Curtis Stone’s Maud and Neil Perry’s Margaret – the venue is named after a dear friend.
Bar Heather will be at G9 Jonson Lane, 139 Jonson Street, Byron Bay, and is slated to open October 19. It’ll operate Wednesday to Sunday, 5pm till late.