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How Darwin’s Dom’s Bar & Lounge went from doors closed to doubling in size

Dom’s Bar & Lounge had to close its doors and regrettably layoff its staff about 12 months ago, however, thanks to some innovation and the support from the Darwin community, owner Dom Wundke is now doubling the size of his bar.

Having opened only three months prior to the pandemic, things were on the right track. After the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia however, Dom’s dreams were quickly put on hold. It wasn’t until hospitality venues were given permission to provide a takeaway/delivery service, that Wundke took his entrepreneurship to the next level.

The chance to experience a mobile cocktail bar with a side of entertainment was quickly swept up by the community, and the media.

Wundke told Bars and Clubs: “We were open for three months before we had to shut the doors again, which was obviously a very difficult time, just after opening. I laid off all the staff and didn’t really know what was going to happen. And then we had an opportunity to do takeaways through government allowing takeaways and deliveries.

“So we started the first sort of cocktail delivery service out the back of my ute. We were shaking the cocktails fresh on the driveway, walking up to people’s houses with palm trees and, lights and music, and entertaining people while we made a cocktail for them. That really kept us going, kept the momentum going during a pretty difficult time when the doors were shut.

“I thought the only way to get on the front page of the NT News was to get some sort of crocodile incident, but, apparently the driveway cocktails were really popular. So, people loved it, we even did a live cross on television where I was making cocktails on my own driveway for Sky News on the Paul Murray show, which was hilarious. And from then on we had all sorts of people ringing up and ordering drinks.”

Wundke originally started his career in hospitality when he attended university in Adelaide working in bars and nightclubs. After finishing his degree, he worked in environmental management in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory about five years-ago.

After he moved to Darwin for work, he realised his local neighbourhood had a lack of hospitality venues and decided to change that.

“I was working as a ranger out in Arnhem Land when I first moved up to the NT five years ago. I ended up moving to Darwin for work and I realised in my local neighbourhood there was no small bars at all, and saw an opportunity there to open my own venue in an area that live in and that I love in the northern suburbs of Darwin, by the beach,” he said.

With the success of his delivery cocktails and on the back of the easing of restrictions, Wundke has seen a positive start to 2021. He said hospitality venues have been well supported by locals in Darwin in the last three months, despite it historically being the quietest periods of the year for the industry.

“It’s my first business, and we’ve been going for about 15 months now, and things are going really well. The months over Christmas, January and February are typically the quieter months in Darwin being the wet season where there’s less visitors and people going away.

“The territory community, particularly here in Darwin have been really supportive of hospitality venues, people have been ordering lots of food and drinks during that lockdown to support venues. We’re lucky and blessed to have a really good local community supporting us.”

He added: “But because things have changed, generally the last three months have been really good, much better than average and that’s the same for a lot of venues in town who have reported increased sales over the last few months which is typically a quiet time.

“We’re looking forward to a really big dry season, expecting a lot of tourists to escape winter down south and get some warm weather so hopefully we have a very good dry season.”

Part of Dom’s Bar & Lounge’s recent success has been the entertainment offering that is well supported by locals. On a monthly basis it hosts a running slam poetry night, cocktail masterclasses, arcade puppy parties, comedy, and chess and cocktail nights.

“We really trying to provide entertainment for our local community and something different that people might not be able to do elsewhere,” Wundke said.

The entertainment has been so popular that Dom’s is in the process of extending into the shop next door, offering double the space and offering consumers a whole new food and beverage experience.

He explained: “At the moment we’re renovating the shop next door and looking to expand in the next month or so. It’s been a hell of a ride, that’s for sure. I guess one year on from when we shut the doors with COVID, we’re feeling pretty good about being in a position to expand the venue.

“When we finish the renovations and launch Dom’s Bar 2.0 we’ll have a new kitchen and an expanded food menu, a new wine list, a new cocktail list and just more seating and opportunities to provide more entertainment in the space we have. At the moment we fill up very quickly so it’ll be done in perfect timing because we need some more room.”

Having successfully navigated early hardship in his first business, Wundke tells fellow owners to remain resilient and look to the local community for support.

“I think we’re in a uniquely fortunate situation here in the NT, and I know that a lot of venues, particularly in Melbourne, have suffered repeated lockdowns which must be so devastating. If my business had to undergo the same lockdown the same of what’s happened in Victoria, I wouldn’t have survived.

“My advice would be that resilience is the strength in business, but even more so at the moment. Now is the time to look to the local communities to support your business because the opportunities are changing. And just be always flexible, especially at that times like now, when things are constantly changing, just to go with the flow to help your business to survive and to prosper.

“Darwin, at the moment is going through a change in culture as far as what people want to eat and drink. We’re really overrepresented with the quality of bartenders up here. We’re getting more and more attention nationally with our small but vibrant cocktail scene.

“I would encourage anyone who hasn’t been up to Darwin who likes having a few cocktails while they’re enjoying all the other beautiful spots we have around here to come up and check us out.”

Pictures courtesy of: Dom’s Bar & Lounge Facebook.

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