THE owners of inner-city tiki bar Blue Kahunas have launched a second venue in Newcastle.
Prudence Farquhar and Byron Marzinotto opened the doors of Bar Mellow last Friday, breathing new life into the historic Bank Corner building.
"We had always talked about doing some other things," Farquhar tells Weekender.
"We would pop into different commercial premises to see what it was like inside and then we walked into this one and it was such a beautiful space.
"We finalised things in late December, so it has been in the works for a while."
This bar is very relaxed, mellow, a little bit sophisticated, a little bit elevated.- Prudence Farquhar
Bar Mellow is a shift from the colourful Caribbean-inspired Blue Kahunas which they opened in a shopfront in Hunter Street Mall three years ago. In contrast the grand building on the corner of Bellevue and Hunter streets in Newcastle West dates back to the 1800s.
Features such as the marble foyer and ornate glass double doors create an unforgettable first impression upon entry into the bar and set the tone for what is inside.
"It is very different to what we do at Blue Kahunas," Farquhar says. "This bar is very relaxed, mellow, a little bit sophisticated, a little bit elevated."
Rum and cocktails are the couple's forte at Blue Kahunas but at Bar Mellow the focus is on wine. The couple brought in Mem Hemmings, group beverage director of Three Blue Ducks, who specialises in natural wines (no additives) to oversee the bar's offering. Around 70 to 80 per cent of the wine at Bar Mellow is natural, with a strong representation of Hunter Valley wines on the predominantly Australian list including "fizz", white, orange, red and rose.
"I met Mem at a women in hospitality event around two or three years ago and she studies viticulture, she works with wine, she does wine classes at [natural and sustainable wine store] P&V Merchants and she also does consulting on the side," Farquhar says.
"She has a real passion for wine, especially the more natural side of things, so our list is quite fresh and progressive."
The cocktail menu is concise, with eight to choose from including gin martini, old fashioned, watermelon Tom Collins and negroni, with a strong focus on gin and Australian products. They will also carbonate cocktails using a carbonation tap on the bar.
"We will probably give ourselves a month or so before we start doing that but it will be really fun," Farquhar says.
"Carbonation in cocktails is a really cool element to play with."
For those after a brew, there are three beers on tap from Welders Dog, Hawkers and Bentspoke, while the food menu includes a selection of bar snacks and paninis.
"It's food that pairs well with wine," Marzinotto says.
"We have paninis and pickled green beans, some nice toasted rye with harissa hummus and sardines."
The couple designed the fit-out which is centred around a generous U-shaped timber-top bar, with curved orange upholstered booth seating along each side of the space. Large hand-painted murals on the walls add to the mood while the original door on the bank's safe is a reminder of the building's former life.
"It was one big open room when we came in. It was an empty shell that we could really put our mark on," Farquhar says.
"We were very hands-on in the building process and we have tried to highlight the heritage features. The windows are really beautiful and we have tried to play off the pink colour on the safe with the bar facade and things like that."
The 120-capacity Bar Mellow is the first small bar to open since the extension of relaxed liquor-trading restrictions in Newcastle earlier this year and the couple is excited to offer late-night trading. The bar will operate from 4.30pm to 1am, Tuesday to Saturday (walk-ins only).
"We are the first small bar to be approved since the end of the small bar trial, so that's really exciting for us because I personally worked hard on that trial alongside Newcastle Council and Tim Crakanthorp," Farquhar says.
"I think it's really exciting and important for small bars to be opening up at that capacity to be able to trade until 2am.
"Having options to go to that are not just a pub or a nightclub, it's something that is lacking in Newcastle. Having diversity is important."
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