Positioned deep within Brisbane’s CBD, The Gresham Bar holds the only heritage bar licence is Queensland. The building which has played a pivotal role in Brisbane’s history stretching as far back as the late 1800s is now home to a unique bar which gives a nod to its heritage evident via their service and extensive drinks offering. The Gresham has a progressive approach to music and drinks and has an attitude policy not a dress policy. We catch up with General Manager Kal Moore to find out what’s made The Gresham so unique.
The Gresham is in such a historical and beautiful building can you tell us a bit about it?
The building was commissioned in 1881 and was completed in 1885. It’s one of the only remaining Victorian-era buildings in Brisbane. It was designed by Francis Drummond Stanley (who was also responsible for the design of the Post Office and the Queensland Club on Mary st) and was opened as the new tenancy for the recently formed Queensland National Bank. Colonel Edward Drury was nominated as the first General Manager, and where the bar now sits was his office at the time of opening. The building itself has been used continuously as a bank until as late as last year when the building was purchased by University of Queensland. There was never a bar there – not until we secured the lease in 2012 and opened the doors in 2013.
You guys don’t have a dress policy, but you do have an attitude policy, can you tell us more about that?
The Gresham started as the brainchild of a couple of old school mates-cum-business partners who had always wanted to own their own bar. Denis and Paul are in the music industry (they’re behind Spendlour in the Grass and the Falls Music Festivals), so they’ve both spent plenty of time over the last 30 years drinking in bars and wanted to have one of their own. They approached local restaurateur Andrew Baturo to help them achieve their vision – an every man’s bar. Even though the design of the bar was intended to impress and give the impression we’ve just walked in and ripped the dust covers off a bar that was operating at the time of the buildings construction, the ethos of operation was always to be without pretension. Anyone should feel comfortable walking into The Gresham and having a drink, whether they’re a tradie finishing work for the week or a couple coming in after dinner on the pier. To that end we didn’t want to impose overarching policies on who can come in or what they look like. As long as you’re looking to have a good time that’s not at the expense of someone else, we’ll say g’day and ask what you’re having.
Your staff really rock, how important is hiring good people?
Staff make the venue, really. All the money in the world spent on design and offering is worth nothing unless you have the right team to execute. We treat our team extremely well and have a very high retention rate. In our 7 years, we’ve only had 3 managers and most staff do a stint of a few years or so which flies in the face of convention in this industry. What makes them stay is that we typically look for pros – people who’ve been around the traps for a few years that know their shit. Hard working, dedicated, friendly and informed staff are what carry the venue. You can teach anyone the knowledge they require to do a job, but their attitude is what is most important and that’s probably the main factor we take into consideration while hiring.
Your drinks list is first class, what’s important to you when selecting the drinks, you offer?
We just look for the best, mostly. We never wanted to pigeon hole ourselves as a ‘whisky bar’ or a ‘cocktail bar’, just as a bar that has great drinks and great service. Obviously trends sort of dictate what it is that we serve and when we opened that was whisky (the 300 odd bottles of whisky on the shelves probably suggests that). These days gin is en vogue, so we make sure that we have anything that we deem to be of good quality on the shelves. That being said, we also make sure we always have a decent array of everything else so that we can cater to anyone’s needs or wants. If it tastes great and we can get it – we probably will.
You are one of the only venues in Australia still serving beer off the wood, how did that come about?
There are some things that we do because it is part of regular service, and some things that we do because we have an affinity towards it. I’m a Brizzy boy, and so are all the directors. Some things like XXXX are always going to be in the bar because they’re close to our hearts. I think I personally am responsible for drinking about half the XXXX Gold that we bring into the venue (it’s the knock off beer of choice for pretty much everyone). Off The Wood came about because of our relationship with Lion and the desire to have something that reflects our heritage as Queenslanders and the building itself. Every Queenslander knows about the Brekky Creek Hotel and XXXX Off The Wood, so we approached Lion to see if we could bring that little piece of history to the CBD. Now every Friday at 5pm we ring the bell and crack a woody (can I say that?). It’s just another thing that sums up what we do at The Gresham.