I love you. I do. But we do need to talk. Please hear me out.
I’ve been in bars most of my adult life. Either in front enjoying the drinks, behind the bar making them, or, as I have for the past eight years, opening and owning them. And as with any job, I have some gripes as well as some stories.
When we first opened Eau De Vie in 2010 as one of Sydney’s first small bars, I sourced beautiful crystal glasses. We had over 20 different cocktail glasses on the bar, most of them vintage, as well as a variety of rocks and highballs depending on what the guest was drinking. Turns out people loved them. In the first 18 months alone we estimated that we had about $40,000 worth of crystal glassware and $10,000 worth of leather menus stolen from the bar.
As a small bar this was a heavy blow to us, and in response to the theft we were forced to raise our prices. We still stock a huge number of glassware but the budget we set aside for this dropped a lot.
Recently after opening Mjølner, our Viking-inspired restaurant and bar in Sydney, we experienced some particularly disheartening low acts of theft.
Among the many things we had made for the venue was a beautiful whisky decanter shaped in the form of Thor’s Hammer (or Mjølner) created by artist Sam Bloomfield, who studied under Stu Johnson, the master armourer for the Lord of the Rings movies. This is an irreplaceable piece of art. Luckily, we managed to catch the perpetrators on camera and tracked them down. Our decanter was returned. We were less lucky when someone walked out of the restaurant with one of the knife sets we present at the tables, which allows the guests to select their “weapons of choice” for dinner. The value of these knives and the leather roll in which they came were about $2500 and will take us a couple of months to replace.
Unfortunately, we are not alone. Theft is rampant in almost any venue that goes out of its way to create a great environment for people to eat or drink in, and ranges from the mundane – such as glassware and menus – to bespoke items such as those mentioned above, and even to furniture, art and rugs.
Maurice Terzini, restaurateur and the owner of the iconic Icebergs in Bondi recalls an incident when someone stole their Gourmet Traveller Bar of the Year award. What is the purpose of this? An award surely only has value to the people who earned it.
Hamish Goonetilleke, who owns Rum Diary in Melbourne, recalls how a customer once managed to wrangle a taxidermy fox off the wall during a busy night. Thankfully another customer stepped in and managed to rescue the fox while the perpetrator literally jumped out of the window to escape.
The fine folks behind Shady Pines in Sydney reported several pieces of taxidermy being stolen. Personally, I’ve had two pairs of stuffed roosters stolen, both securely screwed onto a table. Bolted to the floor, nailed to the wall – it doesn’t stop guests emboldened by Dutch courage.
I’m sure these feats are fun to brag about with mates at the pub, and I must admit that some of the more brazen stories even make the rounds among staff after work. But the impact it has both on the business and those who work there is mostly negative. You may think stealing a menu is no big deal, but when it costs $50 per leather folder, it actually is. With the average bar and restaurant making somewhere around the 10 per cent mark in profits, you’ve essentially wiped out $500 in turnover by taking one of these home.
And the impact goes beyond monetary value – it affects service.
Guest at Ryan Lane’s Brisbane bar Gresham pilfered nearly 80 per cent of its etched wine glasses the day after the venue won the Gourmet Traveller Bar of the Year award. The glasses were later replaced, but service the following day – a Friday – was impacted, and of course affected the diners’ experiences.
Unfortunately, a lot of the theft is probably by people who really love the venue. They love it so much they want them as a memento. As David Hernandez from Sydney’s Mojo puts it: “it is really frustrating, because people go to places for whatever it is that makes them unique, but then they steal the very things that make those places unique.”
So this is my request. Next time you spot something at a bar that you’d like to have at home, enquire about purchasing it, rather than stealing it. And if you have stolen goods at home – return them. We understand. I remember a guest once returned to Eau de Vie with a full set of crystal rocks glasses. I believe we bought him a shot of his favourite whisky as thanks.
Sven Almenning is the founder of the Speakeasy Group which includes Eau de Vie (Sydney & Melbourne), Boilermaker House, Mjølner and The Roosevelt. He was Bartender Magazine’s recipient for the Outstanding Contribution Award in 2009 and has been in the top five of Bartender Magazine’s bi-annual Most Influential List every year.