143-145 Commercial Road, South Yarra VI
(03) 9825 0900 or theemerson.com.au
Ralph Waldo Emerson was a 19th-century bon vivante. No doubt he’s raising a celestial glass in approval.
Story: Christopher Holder
Photos: William Watt
For most of his working life, Mark Hinkley has been a city oil trader. Work hard, play harder, take big risks, make big money, and enjoy the trappings of that success. It’s a background that hardly screams ‘finesse’. He’s not the first person you’d imagine to have the patience to see through an elongated, two and a half year build, or, indeed, the grind of establishing something worth that wait — building a multi-modal venue for the ‘right’ reasons, rather than a smash ’n’ grab booze barn.
Happily, Mark Hinkley is less ‘rogue trader’ and more true believer. He doesn’t fit the shiny-suited nightclub, playboy proprietor… He’s smart without being a wiseguy; savvy without being slick. “Not long into my first solo foray running a bar, I quickly discovered there are two types of people: those who have worked in hospitality and those who haven’t.” Coming from anyone else, you’d probably glaze over, but the cliché does provide context: Mark’s teenage years were shared with his parents pub in country Victoria. He knows the rewards and, more importantly, the enervating, never-sleep challenges of hospitality. “You’ve always got to be ‘on’. I can come to work having got out of the wrong side of the bed, but as soon as I’m here, I’ve got to be optimistic and friendly. If you can’t do that, then choose another line of work.”
After graduating, Mark and and his future wife were recruited to the financial sector in Singapore. For 10 years they enjoyed a child-free, ex-pat lifestyle of disposable income and plenty of opportunities to party. Even if it wasn’t exactly home. “I think one of my friends summed it up best when they said, you can feel like Roger Rabbit. You’re a carton walking around in a real movie and you know it’s only temporary.”
While in Singapore Mark met his mentor, John Hatherley, working for his oil trading and shipping business. John sold his business and brought Mark in on a new venture, Tadcaster Holdings. Tadcaster wasn’t intended as a hospitality-focussed vehicle (resources and property development still occupy most of the balance sheet), but experiences with a bar/restaurant called Bull & Bear in Singapore whetted their appetite. “Hospitality suits our personalities. You have to work very hard to make it successful, but it’s also a bit of fun, and if you do it well and you have a good night… then it’s enormously satisfying.”
The back story is fascinating, because it’s rare to have a company fresh to the Melbourne hospitality scene splash $12m+ on such an ambitious project. The Emerson has a 675-person license over three floors and it has high hopes.
The ground floor is more your traditional, good-time discothecque with a large bar, parquet dancefloor and a thumping Dynacord sound system. “It’s like the loungeroom you always wanted. We encourage people to make it their own. Relax. Kick off your heels and dance on the furniture. Enjoy.”
Upstairs offers another level of sophistication, with a cocktail lounge canopied by a remarkable lighting feature: “This area is all about intimacy. That’s why we’ve got the one-and-a-half seat couches. You can sit there with your girlfriend or your wife and share a drink and an intimate conversation.” The booths serve to break up the space further. Sliders in the long banquette can move to accommodate different size groups. There’s flexibility and you can define your space.
Elsewhere on Level 1 a void makes for more DJ theatre, as punters enjoy the dancefloor mayhem from above.
The rooftop venue is something to behold. Mark likes to think of it as a touch of St Tropez or Monaco (where he likes to head for his annual GP pilgrimage). It has a license for 300 and is replete with sun lounges, dry bars, and cabana-style seating options. The views are as amazing as they are uninterrupted. “It’s a place for people to relax. We want people to feel comfortable about taking the lift up to the rooftop in their shorts and polo shirt, chill with a drink and some live acoustic music, and not be belted over the head with doof-doof.”
IVY? WHAT IVY?
Emerson is unlike any other venue in Melbourne. If anything it’s more like a smaller version of The Ivy in Sydney. Mark wouldn’t know, he’s never been. “We wanted the Emerson to be its own venue. We didn’t want it to be three different different destinations [like a Kit & Kaboodle or Curtin House]. We’ve been compared to the The Ivy, but having lived in Singapore until recently I’ve not had the chance to go. But like The Ivy we really wanted it to be a multipurpose venue. We wanted people to relax on the rooftop, dress up on Friday, Saturday night if they want to, enjoy the cocktail bar for private functions…
venue: So no door bitch telling me she doesn’t like the cut of my denim jib?
Mark Hinkley: No, we’re more relaxed than that. If you want my philosophy on clubbing, it shouldn’t be about having dinner somewhere, then drinks somewhere, and then going for a dance, getting smashed and then going home. That’s not the way to go about it. For me, the weekends are about meeting up with your best friend or, indeed, meeting your new best friend, even for 10 minutes and learning everything.
Ramvek (Builder): (03) 9794 9342 or www.ramvek.com.au
M-Use (Architect): www.m-use.com
DC Group (Architect): www.dcgroup.com.au
Bosch Commuications Systems (Dynacord PA): (02) 9683 4752 or