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    What makes the perfect bar top?

    Nicholas Rider

    The choice of bar top material essentially comes down to three things—aesthetic, usability and durability. At least that’s the general consensus among the Australian hospitality designers I interviewed.

    “You must ask yourself three things,” said one architect. “What look is trying to be portrayed? How will customers and staff interact with the bar? And will the bar be able to withstand heavy use?”

    Those interviewed also agreed that the bar is the key ingredient to any establishment.

    "From an interior design perspective, our position is that the bar is the soul of the venue,” says Alex Zabotto-Bentley, AZBcreative Design Director. “The bar emanates energy so it is essential for it to be entirely functional but also alluring.”

    “Patrons are receptive to the look and feel of materials whether they know it or not,” says Peter Kennon, founder and director at P-E-K Studio. “A bar is the lynch pin of a venue's identity and must embody the persona of the venues' atmosphere and experience.”   

    With so many suppliers and surface types on offer though, what is the best choice? Common picks include granite, quartz, marble, wood and laminates, but choices are essentially endless so long as they are finished and sealed correctly, and they match Australia New Zealand Food Authority Standards for Fixtures, Fittings and Equipment within a hospitality environment (3.2.2).

    BARS AND THEIR SURFACES

    Kittyhawk-by-AZBcreative_Photography-by-Jennifer-Soo.jpg
    AZBcreative used American Oak for the bar top at Kittyhawk. Photography by Jennifer Soo

    AZBcreative picked American Oak for the bar top at Kittyhawk because of the materials’ hardness and durability, but also its warmth and tendency to age beautifully over time. The 13-metre-long bar at the Sydney establishment is hand crafted with custom laser cut drip trays. All the metals incorporated are bronze, brass and aged steel.

    “Bar tops need to [be] extremely functional. [They’re] exposed to frequent cleaning, glasses and bottles, acidic drinks and alcohol,” says Peter James Harley, AZBcreative interior designer.

    Additionally, Harley believes a good bar needs to be comfortable for customers to sit and stand at, and for the bar staff to work on.    

    On the other hand, Smartstone’s Carrara product was used by Codef for the bar top at the Novak Properties Coffee Bar in Sydney. The quartz surface was chosen for both its look and usability.

    “We had looked at other products that were also really sexy, but they were prone to staining or getting damaged quite easily,” says Dusanka Gendic, Codef Design Director.

    Novak-Properties-Coffee-Bar-by-Codef_Image-from-Codef.JPG
    Codef utilised Smartstone’s Carrara product for the bar top at the Novak Properties Coffee Bar in Sydney. Image: CodefYukie-Snack-Bar-P-E-K-Studio_Photography-by-Dan-Hocking.jpg
    CDK Stone’s Super White Natural Dolomite forms the bar top at Yukie Snack Bar in Melbourne. Photography by Dan Hocking

    P-E-K Studio chose a dolomite stone for the bar top at Melbourne’s Yukie Snack Bar. Specifically, the Super White Natural Dolomite (with a honed finish) from CDK Stone was used for its “beautiful and natural aesthetic.”

    Similarly, SJB used stone tops for the two bars at Sydney’s Light Brigade Hotel. For the rooftop, SNB Stone’s Grigio Alexus honed marble in a dark grey was used, and on level 2 Blue Moon Quartzite stone from CDK Stone lies over the bar. 

    “For any venue SJB designs, the finishes and fittings deserve to be special,” says Jonathan Richards, SJB Director.

    “The stone plays a practical role. [It] is the meeting point between patron and staff, it’s sturdy, and [it’s] easy to keep clean. The stone we choose for each bar is opulent without ostentation, and creates an atmosphere for the guest to feel comfortable in.” 

    The-Light-Brigade-Hotel-by-SJB_Photography-by-Tom-Evangelidis.jpg
     SJB used stone tops for the two bars at Sydney’s Light Brigade Hotel. Photography by Tom EvangeledisLot-104-by-Ultraspace_Photography-by-Mark-Gacesa.jpgCorian’s Witch Hazel surface was used by Ultraspace for the bar top at Lot 104 in Queensland. Photography by Mark Gacesa

    Ultraspace incorporated Corian’s Witch Hazel surface for the bar top at Lot 104 in Queensland.

    Mark Gacesa, the firm’s Creative Design Director, saw many benefits with this product, including its anti-bacterial nature, and its ability to join seamlessly and bend. He particularly liked the material as it allowed him to illuminate the bar top.

    “Illumination of some description is always a winner and if the illumination can wash over some unique finish that makes you want to enquire or touch to investigate… then you will always draw the punters,” says Gacesa.

    BREAKING THE RULES

    Mamasan-by-Adam-Hunt-and-Gemma-Lin_Image-from-Mamasan.jpg
    At Mamasan in Sydney’s Surry Hills the sashimi bar was made from an 80-year-old dinghy. Image: Mamasan 

    Of course, professional architects and designers aren’t the only ones who know what makes a great bar, and brand new materials aren’t essential either.

    Mamasan in Sydney’s Surry Hills is a perfect example. Designed by owners, Adam Hunt and Gemma Lin, the Taiwanese and Japanese restaurant has made the most of recycled materials and was recognised in the 2015 International Green Interior Awards, winning the top hospitality award.

    “Basically, we love old shit,” says Hunt.

    The upstairs bar top was built out of 300-year-old oak doors from China.

    “Gemma wanted to use them as toilet doors. But I was like nah, they’re too good.”

    Downstairs, the sashimi bar was made from an 80-year-old dinghy that was found washed up on the rocks behind Pittwater.

    “We get our sashimi delivered roughly five times a week, and I figured it’s as fresh as being served out of a boat. So, I had the idea of building the bar out of a boat,” says Hunt.

    A slab of red gum was placed on the top of the dinghy.

    “The actual materials you use are important. Texture is a really underrated element,” says Hunt. “You want to just touch the wood, you want to feel it. If it feels good, then it is good – and then you’re going to enjoy your drink.”   

    THE VERDICT

    While it may not be as easy as pinpointing the most suitable surface material, a bar top’s design, look and functionality are crucial in creating a vibrant and welcoming experience for both customers and staff. Other options not mentioned previously but we’ve seen used to great effect include Glazed Lava Stone by Pyrolave Australia and Naturastone’s quartz surfaces.  

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