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June 30, 2017
Culture

Meet the Adelaide guy who became one of Melbourne’s most influential bar owners

Part of Adelaide's brand is exporting overachievers.

Influential Australian bar owner – Matt Bax
  • Photos: Andrè Castellucci
  • Interview: Josh Fanning

Matthew Bax may not be a household name in Melbourne, or in Adelaide – the city he grew up in, but when he opened up a little bar in Richmond back in 2001 he had a lasting impact. Der Raum set the standard for the ensuing bar explosion along the Eastern Seaboard and, when it closed suddenly in 2012, it was still on top.

Matt grew up in a small town outside the Coonawara. He studied commerce and became an accountant. He lived in Munich. He set up Der Raum in Melbourne with little-to-no experience as a bartender and fundamentally changed the city’s expectations of a drinks venue, while simultaneously challenging Australia’s long-held idea that hospitality was only something you did in between finishing off uni assignments.

Matt also makes art and sells it around the world and his Bar Americano is still operational and maintaining a gold standard in the Melbourne drinks scene today.

He was recently back in South Australia to make drinks for the travelling jury behind The World’s 50 Best. We caught up with him to shoot the breeze and see whether he’s looking at our city in a new light.


Matt Bax wears an old-fashioned white overcoat in the fashion of a bartender, while holding a cocktail

When did you leave Adelaide for Melbourne?
1995 after uni. I studied Commerce at Flinders.

Previous to the most recent visit – when were you in Adelaide last?
I’m back every couple of months to see my family.

What does Melbourne have that Adelaide will never have?
Never say never.

I have a very specialised product, so I need a bigger population in order to survive. With Melbourne’s larger size and passion for the unique, it’s a good place for people like myself. I also think the market spread… is larger here in Melbourne, I get the feeling that midweek might be a touch sleepy in Adelaide, but I’m only guessing.

From conversations with mates there, it seems some of the Councils could be more proactive in encouraging small business.

Can you explain the lock down on food trucks in the beach suburbs there? Creativity must be encouraged if Adelaide wants to compete on an international level – Matt Bax

I think they have their priorities a bit confused. F&B drive jobs, bring tourism and pumps life into areas. Ultra-conservative local politics will kill off suburbs.

For example, can you explain the lock down on food trucks in the beach suburbs there? Creativity must be encouraged if Adelaide wants to compete on an international level. Innovation most often comes from the small crazy guys but they need help.

And vice versa – what does Adelaide have that Melbourne never will?
I think Adelaide has a quality of life that is hard to match. Much better wine and its easier to find. The city beaches I think are perhaps the best of any urban location in the world. The hills are delightful. It’s a different pace than Melbourne but I think that’s its strength.

What stands out for you about Adelaide food and drink judging by what you experienced while you were here?
The usual suspects. Natural wines (Ochota Barrels, Charlotte Dalton etc). Applewood and Adelaide Hills Distillery – we pour both brands at my bar.

Africola. Pink Moon.

There is a great little café, Lampshade in Somerton Park which opened just recently. It’s exciting to see the café culture spreading and thriving  in the burbs.

Who do you keep in touch with from Adelaide?
My sister and her family also live in Adelaide. My uni and best mate Shane Hogan (Alma, Beyond Imagination Entertainment) still lives there. I count industry goons, like Duncan [Welgemoed] and James Brown amongst my close mates and I love to catch up with the Pink Moon/Clever little Tailor crew when I can. I also try to get to Paul Greenaway’s gallery whenever I’m back. It’s world class, Adelaide is very lucky to have him.

Will you ever consider opening a venue here in SA?
Maybe, but right now I have too many art and bar commitments here in Melbourne. I also have a sickness in watching Carlton lose week in, week out. Sad I know.

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