Once prized for their skills within their respective trades, artisans fell upon hard times in the 20th century. With the rise of the shopping mall and multi-purpose superstore as representations of Western retail and consumer society, artisanal culture took a back seat to mass production and the one-stop shopping experience. Artisanship and the concept of the all-in-one have traditionally been at odds with each other. However, a group in Sydney, Australia is combining both concepts into one.
Located in the bustling central business district of Sussex Lane, Shirt Bar combines a tasting room (geared predominantly towards whisky) with a café and tailored shirt shop for a vibrant and versatile experience. Bringing together the best of all three worlds, it seems you really can have your scotch and drink it too! Something really speaks to me about trying on properly crafted clothing with a single malt in-hand, and it seems Shirt Bar's patrons are finding it quite intoxicating as well.
Scotch and shirting complement each other
Justin and Louka Marmot conceptualised the business alongside master barista, Adam Hofbauer, owner of FAT Coffee. With his family roots firmly planted in the artisan trade of shirt tailoring, Justin owns the men's shirt label Jensen that features within Shirt Bar alongside three other closely-affiliated brands. One of these is Ganton, a menswear brand founded by his father almost 40 years ago that has been tailoring shirts across Australia with a distinct eye for fit and refined asceticism. With all their designs locally produced, the specialist shirt makers also offer customers private fittings and bespoke designs.
It's not only menswear that's on Shirt Bar's mind, though. Louka is also head of Louka + Sabina, a recently launched, fine fabric manufacturer of professional women's apparel. With such a professional background, it's impressive to see the owners making time to work the bar and, quite often, socialise with their customers on the other side of it.
Hofbauer's other company, FAT Coffee, provides the caffeinated stock for the Shirt Bar. Filling the room with years of tried and tested java knowledge, this cosmopolitan aspect to the business is enough to tease anyone away from a glass of rum. With the three featured clothing lines all owned and operated by the creative family, and the coffee side of things run by Hofbauer, it is clear to see why the business has become a success. Rather than simply attempting to hit a predetermined target audience, it attempts to rely on personal style, by adhering to the mixed interests of the connoisseur. Whilst many fusion businesses often come off as an exercise in dilettantism, the three facets of Shirt Bar work together in such a manner that they're more reminiscent of a renaissance: a well-performed exercise in creating a crafted experience across a broad list of specialties.
Shirt Bar provides an engaging and dynamic social atmosphere in which people are able to come together, despite having a distinct mix of curiosities, to share in a single common interest, within a taste for the refined. Overall, the business model attempts to make shopping more leisurely and comfortable for those who may not enjoy the traditional retail experience. That shopping-phobic friend of yours will be glad you invited them along.
However, Shirt Bar isn't simply a place to cavort and caper. The business also offers two separate clubs for shirt and scotch enthusiasts. Each club gives members access to special events, tastings, sales and exclusive offers, which further strengthens the social relationships between patrons whilst introducing new acquaintances to the mix.
At last listing, Shirt Bar offered 12 single malts and five other blended varieties, along with various other bar fares (aged rum, tequila, wine, etc.). With the dramatic rise in international interest surrounding scotch, this cornerstone could certainly draw more clientele towards the Shirt Bar philosophy. A mid-day or post-meeting tumbler of Glenfarclas 21 goes down perfectly whilst trying on a bespoke or made-to-measure shirt for the following day. Their range of whisky touts a spectrum from younger eight-year assortments up to the 25-year Chivas, allowing for a well-selected range of signature tastes.
Exposed brick and strategic lighting accentuate the details of Shirt Bar's immaculate décor, whilst the combination of various assortments of stock juxtaposes against the harmonious atmosphere of the lounge. This dramatic mix brings the urban location into the realm of the intimate - removing the divide between seller and buyer, front room and back room. Seating areas also have specially chosen details - such as a Singer sewing machine - adorning tables to add an extra quirky finish to the dynamic experience.
Interior befitting of each facet of Shirt Bar.
The group does seem a tad tailored to the business-class, given the formal shirt design mantra and scotch selection. This isn't to say that the freelancer, vacationer, or student wouldn't feel comfortable, of course: fashion, design, and palette-based interests abound, within every demographic. With current trends deep rooted in chic, semi-casual to evening dresswear, Shirt Bar is right on schedule to incorporate the younger fashion-conscious crowd effortlessly alongside their business clientele. If I were to stumble across a business such as this in Vancouver, I'd probably never leave.
Given their ability to hold private functions, the location has strong potential to showcase its unique approach to the retail, food and drink industries on a larger scale. I'd be very interested to see what sort of functions end up being held in the space and how groups - and the business itself - utilise the different facets of the shop. Shirt Bar could be on the cusp of becoming a meeting place for Australia's spirits, coffee and fashion insiders.
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