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Sep 25, 2017

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So, You Want To Own A Bar?
by Cam Noakes
Magazine Issue: AUS/NZ Issue Two

You sure? Couple of minutes with Cam Noakes, real-life wine bar owner and dodger of the system tells of the pain, the shame ... and then there's the customers.

It was another night, another bar, another drink, another conversation. It went something like: "I've always wanted to own a bar."

"Yeah, so have I."
"Well, what do you reckon?"
"What? Actually do it?"

The next thing I knew I was shooting pool on a red-velvet table that played as true as a waterbed. The balls were so colourful I wanted to suck them like giant lollies. And the pockets were so wide I couldn't miss. Did I mention I was surrounded by naked women?

I played pool for as long as I could, ignored the nudity, went to sleep on the waterbed and woke up on a roundabout in Carlton. The sky was my doona that night, the grass was my mattress. I slept like a king.

In the morning I dusted my coat, and thought no bar of mine would have pool tables, topless women or one of those time machines that turns one hour into six.

That's a good start. Next step, get some money.

I shaved, gargled, Visined my eyes, put on a jacket and walked down Collins Street looking a million dollars. But the financial institutions sensed something. Did I laugh too hard, blink at the wrong time, scratch my nose when I should've scratched my chin? I don't know, but they knew I didn't have a brass razoo to scratch myself.

Dejected, rejected, I left the city but I wasn't empty-handed. I'd stolen two pens and had something under my fingernail.

Teddy Two-times Twomey of As Cheap as Microchips fame, said the banks had bugged me and now every financial institution in the universe had my file. He said there was nothing he could do. He could not even remove the microchip from my fingernail. I asked him how they put it there and he looked at me and whispered, "Banks can do amazing things -- things you and I can't begin to comprehend."

I drank whiskey that night, smoked a pack of Self Pity, contemplated a bank heist and in the morning I was amazingly lucid.

I had spent years researching pubs and bars and that research cost me a helluva lot of money. I could do this -- I just had to build the bloody thing.

Teddy Two-times reckoned it was a sound business plan, slipped me a couple of bob and gave me a business card; Motamouth Mack from Lawyers R Us. Suddenly, I was the director of a company and a partner in a business. Motamouth Mack was also a fortune-teller and, after we signed some papers and smoked a peace-pipe, he wanted to read my palm.

His eyes glassed over. I got nervous. Motamouth Mack was out of gas.

"What is it?" I asked.
"I see a television."
"Is that bad?"
"I don't know. It's not turned on."

I had to leave. The silence became eerie and it was time to find a shop. Now, there are plenty of vacant shops around but choosing the right one is tricky. The ideal place is near the city, has cheap rent, plenty of parking, neighbouring restaurants and local residents who want to get juiced every night. No problem. Then you've got to get a permit from the council. Problem.

You see, residents want to live near inner-city shopping strips but they don't want any shops in it. They especially don't want shops that sell the old lunatic soup. Objections sound something like: "Dear council, if a bar opens in the shopping strip I will have grave fears for my safety. Lunatics will get drunk, have sex on my front lawn, then try to kill me". Or: "Dear council, if a bar opens in the neighbourhood everyone will want to park in my driveway and steal my car. If you support this project you must provide parking for 80,000 automobiles".

We're a bar not a freakin' football stadium.

I leased an old TV repair shop and spent the next five months sniffing paint fumes, liquid nails, floor varnish, silicon and whatever else I thought would give me a cheap high. I decided to paint everything in electric-orange-crush and hired an enormous fan to blast the paint on the walls. I wanted the "splattered look".

My addiction to the fumes was short-lived due to the severe blisters all over my body and the sudden disappearance of my lips (I kept a can of floor varnish for those extra-tense moments). I also realised electric-orange-crush was horrible and the "splattered look" looked like vomit I saw as a teenager.

There was still no word on the permit. Council conversations were as follows:

"Just ringing regarding the permit for..."
"We're still waiting to process all the objections."
"Just ringing regarding our permit."
"We still haven't got all the objections."
"But the deadline was yesterday."
"We give it a couple of extra days."
"Because we do."
"Just ringing about the permit."
"It has been approved but you have to wait 22 days. There may be some objections."
"Just ringing about..."
"It will be a couple of days."
"But 22 are up."
"We give it a couple of extra, there might be some late mail."
Ring, ring.
"I'm sorry, the computers are down."
"Thought I'd give you a tingle."
"The woman who is handling your file is on holiday."
"Can someone else do it?"
"No, call on Tuesday."
"Why not Monday?"
"She will be busy on Monday. Try Tuesday."
Try shoving it up your freakin' peep-hole.

Eventually the permit arrives. We were ready to open. We were selling beer, wine and spirits. Oh, better get a coffee machine just in case and the power company hasn't turned the power on.

"Can we have some electricity, please?"
"But I'm opening tomorrow."
"We're busy."
Gimme some freakin' power otherwise I'll light up your life.
"How about the morning?"

I turn the second-hand fridge on. It works. I turn the lights on. They work. The fan played and the music spun. The sign on the door said open. The beer was cold. I had ice, wedges of lemon and lime.

A customer walked in.

"I'll have a long macchiato, please."

I have 18 different beers, 80 wines, 31 spirits and 24 liqueurs to choose from not to mention aperitifs and cocktails.

"And a glass of water with some soy milk on the side."

Would that be on the side of your freakin' face?

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