The West

Darlings Supper Club owner Andy Freeman. Picture: Ben Crabtree/The West Australian.
Darlings Supper Club owner Andy Freeman. Picture: Ben Crabtree/The West Australian.

Bar owners have lifted their game as they cater to the demands of discerning, well-travelled patrons who have helped change the face of Perth's bar scene.

Figures show the popularity of small bars has grown considerably over the past five years, with venues now established in suburbia as well as traditional entertainment districts such as the city centre and Northbridge.

Thirty small bar licences were approved in 2008-09. That number more than doubled last financial year.

Of the 88 WA licences approved by the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor to June 30 this year, 48 were in the metropolitan area - 25 in the CBD.

Australian Hotels Association WA chief executive Bradley Woods said the hospitality scene had skyrocketed over the past four years, "with a combination of new venues and different licence types".

"Small bars as well as medium-sized bars have increased in popularity in Perth," Mr Woods said.

Bars offering top-notch food combined with quality drinks at different price points were drawing people back to the CBD and Northbridge.

Varnish on King owner Andy Freeman opened the doors of his latest venture, Darlings Supper Club, only weeks ago. He said he was humbled by the "amazing" response to the venue.

"We opened Darlings and boom, we're doing 2000 covers a week in a restaurant in Northbridge that trades until 3am. Ridiculous. Who would have thought it? I definitely didn't," he said.

Mr Freeman said the industry had changed significantly over the past decade, driven by more experienced and discerning customers. "The consumer is a lot more knowledgeable now than they were 10 years ago and are forcing us to work harder for them, and that's exciting," he said.

"In the past few years, some bar owners have been thinking further outside the box and pushing the boundaries."

The Bar Operator of the Year finalist in the prestigious Australian Bar Awards, said he preferred to create niches rather than follow trends in a city where people were "often looking for the greener grass".

Mr Freeman, who has now announced details of his new venture on Queen Street, said redevelopments in the CBD and Northbridge would attract more people and benefit bars and restaurants.

"There's a lot of opportunity in this city; the market's ripe for it, the precinct we have chosen to make our investment has great growth forecast," he said.

"The future's looking bright.

"I think at least for the next five years we're sitting pretty."

Business owners say the liquor licensing approval process continues to frustrate them but an enthusiasm for the hospitality industry has driven them to create venues focused on quality.

"As retailers of alcohol, we accept reasonable [licence] conditions, however the hospitality sector is so overregulated that even the most basic decisions are controlled," Mr Woods said.

"WA's overregulation adds unnecessary costs for consumers and deters investment in new hospitality venues."

'The consumer is a lot more knowledgeable now than they were 10 years ago and are forcing us to work harder.'" Darlings Supper Club owner *Andy Freeman *

The West Australian

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