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September 2, 2020
Habits

From humidors to house music: Fumo Blu on remaining relevant

East End cognac and cigar bar turned cocktail lounge Fumo Blu celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, but owner Stev Plos says the next 12 months will bring fresh challenges.

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  • Words and pictures: Angela Skujins

When CityMag visits Stev Plos at his Rundle Street bar at 3pm on a Friday afternoon, he says he’s only been awake for an hour. The day before he was with his staff at Legends Bar, followed by rounds of mini-golf at Holey Moley.

Remarks

Fumo Blu
270 Rundle St, Adelaide 5000
Wed—Thurs: 8pm ’til 3am
Fri—Sat: 7pm ’til 3am
Sun—Tues: 9pm ’til 3am

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Once a month Stev does a new activity with his team – “we go camping as a group, go bowling as a group,” he says.

And although he looks like he needs a Powerade and another eight hours of sleep, he says these bonding exercises are important.

“Workplace morale is very important,” Stev says. “If you look after your bar staff, they look after you.”

Fumo Blu is owned by the Plos family, with Stev managing the bar, his mum accounting, and dad and brother renovating when needed.

In 2016 the family purchased the venue from former owners Grantley Souter, Frank Neis and John Domino, with the aim to alter its cognac and cigar offering but keep the name.

The change in concept for the bar was first prompted by legislation enacted in 2007 which saw smoking in enclosed spaces made illegal in South Australia.

This made Fumo Blu’s identity as a smoking lounge difficult to maintain.

“We bought it from them and we changed it from more of a cigar and cognac vibe to be more of a dance music-based place,” Stev says.

“There’s no point having a cigar bar if you can’t smoke cigars.”

Fumo Blu pivoted towards a menu anchored in cocktails and food, and played “new-age music”, like house and disco. The family renovated to make space for a dance floor, with a rotating roster of deejays.

In 2013, South Australia introduced the small venue licence, aimed at venues with a capacity below 120, which resulted in a CBD small-bar boom. Venues proliferated throughout the city from the West End small bar epicentre of Leigh and Peel Street.

When Stev acquired the venue in 2016, years after the change but when small bars like Pink Moon Saloon and Udaberri were on the up, he could feel patrons pull away from Rundle Street.

“But over years now, you can slowly start to see it come back. Could be the new high-rise apartments or Lot Fourteen,” Stev says.

“What the future holds with that, I can’t tell you.”

During the COVID-19 lockdown, which began at the end of March, Fumo Blu shut for three months. During the closure, Stev took a month-long holiday then helped his family renovate the staircase and bathrooms.

A framed copy of Seinfeld’s George Costanza’s ‘Timeless Art of Seduction’ photograph was another addition to the space

 

Although four Fumo Blu staff were accepted for the Federal Government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, Stev is apprehensive about when the program expires next year, as it will also affect his patrons.

“Some people don’t usually get X amount of dollars a week, and I think when that stops, we’ll begin to see the real effects on the bar,” Stev says.

“People have to start thinking about what they spend money on.”

Fumo Blu has remained relevant over its two decades because the venue adapted to changing conditions, Stev says.

The Plos family has also made a habit of finding gaps in the hospitality market and filling them, for example catering to vegans with animal-free cocktails and nibbles, and offering bartenders and chefs hospo discounts.

Although hospitality can be a fickle industry, especially in a time of pandemic, Stev says he wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“What’s the saying? If you enjoy your job, you don’t work a day in your life.”

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