Upstairs in an established city venue is a bespoke whisky saloon. Are you top shelf enough to enter its golden gate?
A sneak peek inside Adelaide’s invite-only whisky bar
CityMag approached Ralph Louis Frederick through sister bar Hains & Co.
A staircase is fronted by a sculptural golden gate, while a vintage telephone hangs below an old-style sign saying: ‘Ralph Louis Frederick — whisky life’.
CityMag calls, and is answered by co-owner Marissa Galatis-Motteram.
She meets us and we are guided through and up the blue-carpeted stairway to a whisky oasis.
Ralph Louis Frederick is a whisky bar with a collection including big names like Brora and Willet, offering up limited and restricted drops as well as other spirits and champagne.
The cheapest whisky on offer is Dewar’s 12-year-old Blended at $17 for a 30ml peg, while the most expensive – Hanyu Distillery’s 13-year-old ‘Magic Carpet in Sweetie Shop’ – will set you back a mere $1866 for a 30ml peg.
Fellow co-owner Marcus Motterman wanted to create a bespoke space for like-minded people to enjoy “fine whiskey and refined conversation”.
“Some of the rules of the space: it’s really important that it is a space for men and women, and I want to make sure people respect not only the space, but each other [and] the surrounds,” Marcus says.
“Don’t be loud and be annoying to other guests who are here — I don’t want you speaking in a way that may be perceived as misogynistic or anything like that.
“We want people to be dressed up. You can’t come dressed poorly — that’s not what the space is for.”
This intimate experience is not easily accessed. To pass the golden gate, one must be referred by an existing member.
“I was dealing with a couple of queries, and they said they’ve been referred by X, Y, and Z,” Marissa says.
“I call up X, Y, and Z and say ‘Hey, this person has been referred by you. Do you reckon they’re the right person for Ralph Louis Frederick?’ and they’ll say, ‘yeah, absolutely’ or ‘oh, I can’t believe they used my name’.”
“So it’s got to be like-minded people.”
When asked what qualifications the chosen few must possess, Marcus says the space is “for established patrons”.
“The reason behind that is I just want to make sure that again, people are well behaved,” he says.
“If you were established as a patron and misbehaved in the space, next time might difficult be to get up. It’s about controlling that.
“I feel that if we have people who then bring people that we then add to the established patrons, through them actually introducing them, you’re actually going to get more like-minded people.”
Despite this, Marcus insists Ralph Louis Frederick is “not about having a lot of money”, but attracting “a higher end clientele” who love whisky.
The concept behind Ralph Louis Frederick contrasts with the Hains & Co just-off-the-ship vibe.
“Downstairs is every man’s bar. Right? So we’ve still got that for people, and it’s a beautiful bar — I don’t want to take away from that,” Marcus says.
“This is something a little bit different — we’re looking to bring a different clientele. There’s no value in us just taking clients from downstairs and bring them upstairs. That just eats our own business.”
While taking CityMag on a tour, Marcus requests minimal photos so as to keep the experience as new as possible to first-time patrons. He wants the space left to the imagination.
When we sit down, both Marissa and Marcus advise CityMag to sit in a corner seat that overlooks the entire venue — specifically the whisky bar. They say it’s the best seat in the house.
“The bar was designed, you probably won’t find another bar like this, in that there isn’t the traditional bar bench to block the bar from the customers… it’s almost like you’re walking into a lounge room,” Marissa says. New here? Sign up to receive the latest happenings from around our city, sent every Thursday afternoon.
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The interior is carpeted from the bottom of the stairway to the edge of the balcony, while plush seats are covered in sapphire velvet, brass highlights sparkle and marble table tops beckon.
“The two styles that I was going for were Art Deco and Art Nouveau and creating space around that to go with the lovely old music… this lovely French jazz,” Marcus says.
“Each of the cabinets is supposed to be an art piece, highlighting these whiskies in the most beautiful way possible.
“The idea was there’s this beautiful golden glow coming from not only the whiskies but the cabinets, to highlight them as best we can. It’s all beautiful wood and mahogany.”
Getting both the space and the whisky/spirit collection together was no walk in the park, and took some considerable time before the pair brought their vision to life.
“Marcus has been collecting whisky for seven years: auction sites from all around the world, from distilleries that have shut down,” Marissa says.
“90 per cent of what we have is limited — 90, probably 95. There’s special releases, they’re limited releases,” Marcus elaborates.
While its invite-only, locals will soon have a brief chance to check the venue out, with non-established patrons and whisky lovers alike welcome to attend a Ralph Louis Frederick event celebrating the 100 year anniversary of House of Suntory — the original pioneers of Japanese whisky.
“Something so special about this event is it’s bringing a couple of bottles that are very difficult to get hold of to begin with… so for people to be able to try [them],” Marcus says.
“They’re celebrating 100 years of making whisky, and there’s a big global event and anniversaries and celebrations and they’ve released new editions.”
At this $350 ticketed event, tastings will include, but are not limited to, the Yamazaki 18-year-old Mizunara Anniversary Edition and the Hibiki 21-Year-Old Blended Japanese whisky.
Food will be supplied by chef Eddie from Yakitori Takumi in North Adelaide, as he “also loves his whisky” according to Marcus.
“We thought that’d be the perfect person to pair with it because he understands the whisky and he can then look [at]… the options of what will actually work really well together,” he says.
When asked why they decided to host such an event, Marissa says they’re “privileged to be offered it”.
“They’ve been doing global events around the world,” she says. “It was just a perfect fit.
“House of Suntory — they’ve been working with Marcus for years on this project here.”
Ralph Louis Frederick is located at 23 Gilbert Place, Adelaide.
Tickets are available for the 100 Year Anniversary House of Suntory event through the website, where inquiries can be made to apply for residency at Ralph Louis Frederick.