The Blend interviewed Rum Diary, Regional Bar of the Year 2021 (Bartender Magazine, Australian Bar Awards)
1. Firstly, congratulations on taking out Regional Bar of the Year at Bartender Magazine, Australian Bar Awards. What does this award mean to your team?
Thank you! You know, every staff member at The Rum Diary Bar works their absolute hardest. They take such pride in their work and really give it all they’ve got.
Opening a new venue last year during COVID was a challenging experience to say the least! Our usually ‘hands-on’ owner was still stuck in lockdown in Melbourne, so everything had to be done remotely; countless phone calls, photo messages, FaceTime and cameras to help work out all those details that now make Rum Diary what it is now.
We take our gratification in seeing our customers enjoying their experience. To our team, this award is so special. It reinvigorated our spirit and reaffirmed that our hard work and love of the industry has not gone unnoticed.
2. What do you love about working in the industry in a regional area?
A lot of Rum Diary staff - both past and present - have worked in the industry from all corners of the globe. It is great to be able to bring some of those experiences to a regional area like Newcastle.
Anyone who has worked in the regional hospitality industry will agree that nothing beats the constant love and support you receive from your regulars and fellow businesses in the community.
It's always nice to be able to bring something new and exciting to a community that really appreciates special things! Newcastle, for a regional area, is already spoilt for wonderful venues, but we have been welcomed with open, excited arms.
Welcoming new customers as they walk through our doors for the first time, seeing that surprised look or hearing a little ‘wow’ as they get their first glimpse of our venue, is really quite gratifying.
3. How do you think that the regional bar scene differs from that of CBD locations? What are the challenges and advantages that this comes with?
Theme venues are always risky; not only does the idea have to fit the market but timing can make or break it too - I think that’s the same across the board. Newcastle has had a quiet few themed venues in the past, but perhaps less so in recent times.
For us, we love rum! It is an incredible spirit, but can sometimes have a ‘scary’ reputation to those who wouldn’t normally reach for it.
We're lucky to have a solid base of regulars who visit us. Over time, customers sitting at the bar with us weekly have become friends - some even made personalised ‘Reserved for’ plaques for themselves!
We're proud to support our music scene here in Newcastle and be a venue for our homegrown talent. Even during the challenging times of COVID, we felt it important to continue host live music and try to provide the best experience to our customers. But also, if anyone has done it tougher than us it’s the live music industry, so for us, the moment we were allowed live performances, we didn’t hesitate booking our local artists back.
But one of the foremost challenges we face in regional town are the fewer nights people go out on. In Newcastle for example there are only really 3 or 4 nights of the week.
There’s a lot of factors - people live out of the CBD, transportation options, over a decade of lock out laws and more recently, work-from-home, means there are less nights where you'll find people out on the streets looking for somewhere to eat and drink.
This becomes a challenge when trying to bring the 'big city experience' to a regional town, where your earning capacity isn't 7 days a week but your bills are.
4. The last few years have been challenging on the industry, what has been the highlight for your team?
This award!! We're so stoked to have even been nominated but to take out the gold has been a dream! We're also really proud of how we approached lockdown and flipped out the business model to be takeaway whilst maintaining the Rum Diary vibes. We're also just darn proud of our team who have really come together and put in the hard yards over the last 12 months!
5. What’s next for the venue?
That's for us to know and you to find out We're excited for restrictions to lift so that we can make full use of our space! Plus the recent trial of easing lockouts laws and drink restrictions in Newcastle have been a success, allowing us the opportunity to realise our full potential.
So, I guess you'll just have to swing by and see all the new and exciting changes that will be unveiled throughout the summer and beyond for yourself!
Address: 529 Hunter St, Newcastle NSW 2300
Hours: Closed ⋅ Opens 5PM Wed
Phone: 0409 225 302