Found hidden away behind the locker room of Mr Badgers Deli in Woolloongabba is a door to the office of general manager Joseph S. Badger* – except, it’s not. It’s actually a gateway into a combination of New York nightclub and Amsterdam beer garden called Copacabana Club.
The venue is the work of hospitality veteran and secret bar specialist, Dan Rodriguez. Dan has previously masterminded upstairs speakeasy Mrs J Rabbits at his Electric Avenue venue, and the Secret Garden – a hidden space at Canvas Club (both of these bars are also found in Woolloongabba).
Bars and Clubs asked Dan why he kept returning to the speakeasy concept.
“To be honest, I just love the story – I love something a little bit different and a little bit secret.”
And possibly, this love of clandestine spaces all began in childhood.
“One thing I used to love growing up was Disney, and how they would tell a story. And having an extra element – before you even sti down, you have to try and find it, which makes it a bit special, and I think that’s what I love about [speakeasies],” Dan explained.
Film also provided some of the inspiration for the Copacabana Club (named after the world famous nightclub in Manhattan), as Dan illustrates.
“We’re actually called the Goodfellas Group, and it’s one of my favourite movies,” Dan says.
“I always loved that scene from the movie where he walks into the Copacabana Club – and it’s the big boss move, they get him a table at the front of the club… And there’s live music playing in the space. And I was like ‘I’d love to do something like that.’
“My version is probably not as fancy,” Dan concedes, although touches of luxury can be found in the club’s leather clad sofas.
The bar does take strong inspiration from the nightclub, alongside some European influence from Dan’s previous career as a graphic designer and marketer in Amsterdam.
“I guess the best way to describe it is as a New York rooftop,” Dan continues.
“But also a bit of a tribute to when I lived in Amsterdam. When you’re living in Europe, when the sun’s out – everyone’s out, and the big beer gardens are full.
“The problem is the weather – it’s so unpredictable. But here in Queensland, the weather’s great, it’s perfect weather for that open air vibe.”
Nevertheless, those guests fearing the impact of a Queensland cyclone can rest easy, as the venue also boasts a retractable roof.
The space, and proximity to the Gabba stadium were drivers in the decision to add the venue.
“We saw the value in having an open air beer garden right next to the Gabba stadium,” Dan says.
And the drinks offering leans in to this approachable al fresco feel.
“It’s a very Italian menu, spritz heavy, Negronis with a hint of tropical flavour as well. It’s not a massive cocktail list – six cocktails but then, they’ll be paired with international wines,” the owner explains
See a recipe for one of the spritzes here.
“We’re leaning into the European deli kind of vibe out the back, and then beers are just your like cheaper, well known beers, in the sense that we want it to be a little bit more affordable that going to a real fancy rooftop bar where you’re paying $25/30 a cocktail, and $20 for a pint of beer,” Dan says.
Partly this menu is reflective of the bar’s concept, but also responds to the increased cost of living facing customers.
“It’s competitive at the moment, and just to go out, it’s very expensive,” Dan adds.
Tying into this tightly defined drinks menu is a rotational entertainment schedule, which Dan says the venue decided upon to try to create some novelty value for guests.
“There’s going to be live music every Friday night, but rather than just having live music every Sunday, we want to kind of have a different theme each Sunday.
“So once a month there’ll be a pop-up food truck in the back that’s tailored to the stuff that we do, and teaming up with another Brisbane venue.”
Recently, the Copacabana Club has worked with Barbecue Mafia, a Coorparoo based restaurant and a fitting partner to the Goodfellas Group.
“Then the following week, we’re doing something a bit more fun like 80s themed musical bingo,” Dan continues.
Copacabana Club will also host 80s themed trivia, and the Queensland Swing Dance Society.
“So it’s just like being very tactical in the events we’re doing, and not just doing them every week, but once a month, so people know it’s once a month, rather than ‘if I don’t go this weekend, I can go next week,’” Dan says.
The venue opened towards the end of March. There are obvious challenges to opening a venue in the current economic climate, and Dan explains how his team have tackled these.
“I’m very lucky because my business partner… he’s a carpenter by trade. He now works in the kitchen, he’s put the tools down, but when it comes to doing the fit out and all that design – I work on the design using my design background, and he makes my ideas come to life in a cost effective way. But that’s a huge cost saving having him on board.”
Furnishings were largely purchased through Gumtree and Facebook marketplace, aside from some centrepiece items.
“Everything else is pretty much recycled,” the operator comments.
Dan’s Goodfellas Group are now significant players in the Woolloongabba hospitality scene, and Bars and Clubs asked him to appraise the area’s nightlife, and its future.
“I think it’s going to change to change. There’s a sense in the air that it’s going to change a litlte bit in the sense that customers will be a bit more conscious of what they’re spending and where they’re spending.
“I think venues have to put main focus on customer service, and to make sure whatever you’re producing is on point, because that there is so much competition out there. If you do that, I think those venues will survive.
Generally, Dan says, there is a strong momentum to Brisbane’s hospitality sector.
“There’s a new venue opening up every week, and so much competition.
“Brisbane people love a new shiny toy,” he concludes.
The Copacabana Club is found at Mr Badgers Deli, 24 Logan Road, Woolloongabba.
The venue is open Fridays to Sundays, from 4pm to late.
* Badger was indeed a real character, who helped to electrify the Brisbane tramway service in the late 19th century.