There’s no doubt that the Gin Palace is a Melbourne institution. The swanky, gothic style bar has become a fixture of the city’s nightlife, serving up martinis and other delicious gin based cocktails since 1997. In light of its official 20th birthday on Tuesday 7th of November, Drinks World sat down with founder and creator Vernon Chalker to chat about they keys to a successful venue and how then team will be celebrating this milestone event.
DW: Congratulations on your 20th Anniversary. How are you celebrating this milestone?
VC: We’re having a fancy party that we don’t want too many people to know about! (Laughs)
But really we have invited all of our previous staff from the last 20 years who are/were an integral part of the success of the business. We have also invited some fancy friends who don’t like to be talked about. We are shutting down Russell Place for a big soirée with a red carpet, a band, martinis and Champagne!
DW: Being open for 20 years is a massive achievement. Why do you think your venue has been so successful?
VC: I’ve never wanted to be an entrepreneur who builds a business and then sells it. Look at Richard Branson; he holds on to his businesses with pride. We’ve stuck to our vision from the beginning. We look after our customers, who are our extended family. We love what we do and our customers see that and want to be a part of it. When they come through the heavy doors, they enter a world away from the dirty alley only steps behind them and when they leave, they leave with a smile and always come back.
DW: How do you draw new customers into your venue? Do you feel it’s mainly word of mouth and great online reviews?
VC: Ultimately, its word of mouth. The grape vine share their great experience and then we deliver on it time and time again. That, and we have new customers turn 18 every year. It’s a different time now. People used to tell us if they weren’t having a good time to our face. Having said that most of our online feedback is glowing, and why shouldn’t it be? We can’t be everything for everybody, but those that enjoy fantastic service and product and are happy to pay for it aren’t disappointed.
DW: Is there any bar staff still on the books that have worked since the opening?
VC: No, it’s a transient industry, which we have always been aware of. Most staff average 3 years, which is enviable in this kind of business. We have had many staff work for longer than over 10 years as well. Perhaps that is because we are one of the only venues to pay long service leave in hospitality! Having said that, once staff leave they always continue as loyal customers and friends.
DW: Throughout this time you must have had some pretty exciting people walk through the doors, can you recall any celebrities?
VC: I cannot confirm or deny, as we operate under the greatest discretion. So many have come through our doors, including amazing and graceful actors, statesmen and women, sports people, comedians, musicians, performers, and the list goes on. It would be a long and tawdry list of the ‘who’s who’, and would sound like gratuitous boasting. Suffice to say there are many stories held within these four walls, many of which have become myth or legend.
DW: The key to a successful venue is top quality staff. What steps do you take to hire the right people? What’s key to look out for?
VC: The most important things are honesty, integrity and work ethic. You can’t teach any of these. When you have the right people, life gets easier and you’re rewarded with commitment. The right ones stay with us for a long time, while the wrong ones drift off to other jobs. Many have gone on to be successful bar and restaurant owners, wine makers and business people. Many of our past staff are lifelong friends, and we’re grateful for that. Our network is truly amazing.
DW: So what’s in the pipeline for the next 20 years at Gin Palace?
VC: We are an institution now, so we will continue to aim to perfect our craft and stay relevant. Gin Palace always evolves but never changes. Think of us as the Madonna of Melbourne hospitality!
To join in the celebrations, click attending to their Facebook event.