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How hospitality companies control your social life

Blythe S Worthy takes us behind the scenes of Sydney’s hospitality industry

justine hemmes1

The hospitality industry is one of the main earners of the tourist dollar in Sydney. We’re a party town with a big mouth and people jump at the chance to attend events of any persuasion… Especially if it’s the opening of a new small bar. Since the advent of ‘Shady Pines Culture’, small bars have been popping up all over the place, mainly due to their success by way of the Small Bar License agreement introduced by Clover Moore and the Sydney City Council in 2008.

On the Sydney Council website, it states “The City of Sydney is accelerating work on a coordinated approach to the City’s late night economy. We aim to attract a wider range of people into the city centre… Having more options will create a safer, more balanced and more interesting late night economy” the key word being “Safer”- directly addressing the violence and general sloppiness of the Kings Cross area. The thing is, minute watering holes aren’t all owned by the small people we’d like to believe exist out the back changing kegs and counting tips.

Let’s take a closer look at those ‘Small independent bars’ you love to frequent and see who’s really behind the scenes, and how they sell whatever’s drawing us in for that sweet “late night economy.”


Vibe: Classy, rich, rock star, cocaine, corporate, models, edge and colour. This empire was built for one reason; So that Justin Hemmes could access young money and old money struggling to be young. And it worked. Hemmes lines his bars with yuppie-paper, and they stick to it like flies squirming in the midmorning sun.

Venues: Ivy, Beresford, Ms. G’s, The Royal George, Tank Stream Bar, Palmer & Co., Mr. Wong, Chinese Laundry, Establishment Bar, Ash St. Cellar, Angel Hotel


Vibe: Hip, event-heavy (Live art etc), MDMA, bartenders and waiters in kooky outfits (bright colours, paisley aprons, striped shirts, band shirts), good old pub food (with an American twist?). Keystone somehow comes across as low key Merivale, They hold their staff to a pretty strictly-enforced procedure-focused regime. They have a very earnest marketing department that endeavors to hit whatever notes Merivale has such seemingly easy access to.

Venues: The Winery, The Loft, The Sugarmill Complex (Including Kit n Kaboodle and Sweethearts Rooftop), The Rook, Newtown Hotel, Manly Wine, Gazebo, Cargo, Bungalow 8

Urban Purveyor Group

Vibe: Tourist and Yuppie focused. Cocktails, Mock Merivale look, efficiency, German, Beer, steins, food, food and more food. More of a focus on quality, mostly in the produce sector instead of the customer service. Not as much training as other venues, but they still have a tip system based on a cocktail and service test.

Venues: Lowenbrau, all Bavarian Beer Cafes and everything within The Argyle complex at The Rocks (Sake, Ananas, The Cut, The Argyle).

Baby Hospitality Companies

Vibe: “Crumb on the walls” also described as “Vintage… playing silly music” Big on spirits and beer. These guys are the hip flavour in Sydney at the moment, and their initial low-cost set ups rake in the cash from folks of any persuasion. It seems speakeasy music, neat scotch, moustaches, loose-fitting shirts and vintage light fittings are here to stay.

Venues: Shady Pines, Frankies, Tio’s (collaboratively) and The Baxter Inn

Drink ’n’ Dine Group

Vibe: Pub food, beer, pretty lighting, sports bars, Aussie Aussie Aussie, music and fried stuff.

Venues: The Abercrombie, The Norfolk

Pocket Group

Vibe: Slightly more elite, these bars feature more of a focus on cocktails in the traditional sense, akin to that of the Eau De Vie boys. The décor has had plenty of money spent on it, and the bartenders more trained towards customer service than some other small places. They are, however, notorious for underpaying some of their staff.

Venues: Pocket, Button, Stitch

So there you have it – the small bars we go to and the people who create the atmosphere we love. The larger companies are heavily reliant on hierarchy and procedure and so aren’t very flexible on staff due to their adherence to this style of management.

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