Reimagining Underperforming Spaces - Sydney Hotel Bars

During 2015 and 16 I was lucky enough to travel too and through some of the worlds great cities, researching what they were doing to activate their opportunities, how they mark themselves as unique places in the ever homogenised modern world.

My trip took me to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Rome, London and Paris. To some they are the beating hearts of our current global environment, where change and innovation can still be found.

Naturally, I found myself visiting many restaurants and bars, and of course I stayed in many hotels.

I noticed something I've not seen much of in Sydney, that in many cases the best restaurants and bars in these cities, were actually in the hotels in which I was staying.

My trip illustrated to me that globally, hotel bars are recognised as a multipurpose space. Yes, they serve the traveller, but they are useful as a meeting place that will always be available and open.

In the best iterations of these spaces you will not only find drinks, but great, interesting food, free Wi-Fi and people exchanging ideas, creating, in many cities they have now become the networking hub for the community, a modern version of the local bar.

When I returned to Sydney I realised that the hotel bar is one of the great underperforming and under-utilised spaces in the City.As I originally sat down to write this post, toward the end of 2016, as often happens when people are seeking change, I received an incredibly timely phone call from Accor, who wanted me to put together a strategy for one of their underperforming spaces.

Hotel Bars – Sydney’s Great Overlooked Opportunity

Following this conversation with Accor, I was invited to put in place a strategy and then implement it as part of a ‘bar revitalisation’ project for the Ibis at King Street Wharf. This hotel regularly had in excess of 95% occupancy, but its bar was essentially a ‘dead space’. My challenge was to make it active and productive for the business, a space where guests would happily hang out and where they would also meet colleagues, but I also wanted it to be a place where people would just go.

The Classic Before Shot (below)

The bar is located in a difficult spot, away from the actual bar and hidden behind the lifts, it was also multi-purpose, being where breakfast was served from a buffet in the mornings. The challenge was not to just redefine the space, but also to educate the hotel staff as to what it could be, if it was used correctly.

The problem was, the money was already spent on the fit-out which wasn't working as had been hoped.

So, with little money and a space that really felt sterile, what do you do?

Well, we reimagined the space to connect it to its place.

As the bar was based at King Street Wharf we developed a ‘light industrial’ theme. We added some notes from the street, being great street art, we adjusted the hotels approach to what it sold and how it used the space, trained the staff, added some authenticity and of course gave it a story that reconnected it with the history of its location.

It was also rechristened Lot 51, an inspired choice by the hotels manager, illustrating her project ‘buy in’, also giving it an identifiable brand that was separate to that of the hotel, but it also gave the hotel an identity as this name came from its original location on some of the earliest maps of Sydney.

Staff were trained to offer ‘bar standard’ service and understood they should love the bar and now, after the reimagining of the space, it is also somewhere they are proud to work.

This space, with its new 'light industrial feel', even before it had been completed was now showing an uplift by selling something they were previously giving away, coffee, selling cocktails of a menu, where it had shown none and offering a carefully curated selection of wines, at the same or a similar price as before, but now it's a wine the staff can talk about, all served in a space that with added greenery, books, games etc. was now 'sticky', looks amazing and will become an active community hub.

Indeed, I believe it's a first in Sydney and a whole new business, it's a small bar in a hotel and this is the missed opportunity that we have imagined at Ibis King Street Wharf.

Whilst there are still some things to look into, such as the food offering, the bar itself is trading.

Go visit, you’ll love it as a bar in itself, it is now an amazing space that can now realise its potential and maximise the opportunity for the owners.

If you want Node to work on a similar project on a space you believe is underperforming, we have the team, we are the experts.

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