The beloved Pawn & Co. is back… now with added organocktail.
177 Greville St, Prahran VIC
(03) 8506 0616 or www.pawnandco.com.au
Story: Christopher Holder
Photography: Eugene Hyland
Don’t try this at home.
A bar where everything is for sale? Pawn & Co. should come with a warning for other would-be operators: in the wrong hands Pawn & Co. would be more ‘Gold Coast theme park’ than ‘coolest bar in town’.
Thankfully Pawn & Co. is in the right hands: a seven-person crew; all good mates; all come from backgrounds without privilege, just a strong work ethic and a passion for doing things well.
If each in the group have their own unique attributes then Josh Lefers is undoubtedly the creative firebrand of the band. His head is a plasma ball of firing synapses. Josh is showing me the organocktail maker. Where other operators are trying to push premixed cocktails through fast-flow taps into students’ mitts, Josh is designing his own ‘infernal contraption’ that’s jerry-built from a decommissioned pump organ. In short, it’s nuts. But its fun. Yet how do you stop ‘fun’ being tacky? How do you stop being that venue which was mildly diverting one night then ‘never again’… like a theatre restaurant?
The answer is, back up the fun with rock-solid F&B fundamentals.
“It’s a novel concept,” says Josh. “If you want to interact with the pawn shop aspect of the venue then you’re more than welcome. It’s 2am, you’re there with your date and you spot a trumpet. Buy it; play it. That’s fun. But you don’t have to interact. Fundamentally, Pawn & Co. is a bar and a really good one at that. Our mission is to help you have a fun time in our venue. So it’s not enough to have a cool idea or a strong concept, you have to back it up with great execution, and we have the team to pull that off.”
I’LL TAKE IT
Like the memorabilia and esoterica on show in the venue, there’s nothing new about Pawn & Co. Some five years ago Pawn & Co. launched nearby on Chapel St. South Yarra. It got done over by a developer deal that kicked them out of the tenancy.
During a period of uncertainty and hand wringing the venue ran a Save Pawn petition and it was then that Josh and the others realised just how much their venue had inveigled its way into the culture of the area. There was outrage. There were tears. There was unstinting support from the hospitality venue community. It was humbling.
“We really, really didn’t want to move. And the community support was huge. We had 3000+ signatures to save the venue. We realise we’d become an institution in the area, which isn’t easy to do in under five years.
“The final night in the original venue, people were in tears. I was consoling a patron who was clutching an Edwardian Oxford English Diction as a memento of the old venue, sobbing. It was a touching time.”
EVERYTHING TO LOSE
With so much sentiment for Pawn & Co., relaunching was the easiest and the hardest thing to do. In fact, I put it to Josh that he had everything to lose: “I agree. There was so much love for the original Pawn that it would have been very easy to betray that in some way. But we approached the new Pawn with a lot of diligence and love.”
Version 2 of Pawn came with five years of extra experience and resources. Josh was pleased to see his concepts fully fleshed out. This time around they hired film set builders to realise some of the components.
“The idea of installing tram carriages downstairs came with so many potential problems. I have another venue with a semi trailer inside it [Truck Stop Deluxe] and putting that in place represented a world of pain. So engaging [set builders] On Set was one of the best things we could have done.”
The Pawn schtick is simple but elegantly powerful: everything’s for sale. The venue is built as a pawnbroker of the future… but with a steampunk aesthetic. Most items have a price tag. Mostly items are priced such that you don’t have to be on your third Absinthe to spring for something that takes your eye. Yet it’d seem Josh would rather some choice items not disappear too soon. The price tag on the Star Wars storm trooper at the front door positions it well out of the impulse purchase zone… saying that, I’ve no doubt it won’t be long before a fanboy punter shares a cab home with the $1500 souvenir.
However you interact with Pawn & Co. it’s a bar with a smile on its face. Satisfying stuff for Josh: “Personally, as the designer of the space, I’m super stoked to feel such love for it across the board. Hearing the snippets of conversation, the feedback… it’s sweet for me. And even sweeter is to have achieved it with my friends and partners.
“The first time around we scrimped and scraped. This time around we had the resources for me to articulate my concepts in the way I’d hoped. So to repay that faith my partners have in me is very rewarding.”
Some 12 months ago, prior to the eviction notice, the Pawn & Co. directors invested in a new PA. As the Pawn & Co. star rose, and as it became increasingly attractive to bigger name DJs, they new they needed to up their audio game.
The new Pawn has raised the bar even further. EventCraft was engaged as the AV consultant and installer, headed by Jason Rooney:
“First job was to assess the building. We brought in an acoustic consultant to map the venue and determine what sort of amplified sound would be possible.
Josh: “We spent quite a bit of money we didn’t reckon on, getting this place soundproofed to a degree. We were determined to be great neighbours.
Jason: “Get a SEPP N-2 done [State Environment Protection Policy – Control of Music Noise from Public Premises]. It’s the legislation you need to abide by. People ignore it, spend $50k on a bigger sign out front or a social media push… and you might have full venue, but you’ll need to do it in the long run or you’ll get shut down.”
Josh: “Late night venues like ours need to be across a lot of regulation, and it’s our job to know our obligations and adhere to them. Liquor licensing, council rulings, EPA… let me tell you, these are not agencies you want to have a problem with; quite the opposite. If you want a successful, sustainable business, then operate responsibly. We put in too much time, love and money, to lose it all because of stupidity.”
The PA design is a cracker. Downstairs a pair of full range dB Technologies 15-inch loudspeakers cover the main area. They’re inverted to allow the HF horn to shoot under the steampunk creative fixed to the low-ish ceiling. Two d&b 27A passive cardioid subs fill out the bottom end. The subs back on to the foyer and the cardioid design means the front entrance is spared most of the sub output. Often cardioid sub setups require multiple boxes and processing, the 27A does it all in the one enclosure, which is nifty. A d&b 20D amplifier powers the PA.
The foyer has a couple of dB Technologies 8-inch two-way loudspeakers addressed as its own zone and independently delayed to be in sync with the ground floor DJ output or upstairs if the headline DJ is taking over the venue’s sound.
All the zoning and processing is managed by an Ashly DSP which was existing – about $3000 worth of processing sitting the cupboard from the previous tenant which was welcome.
The upstairs main room boasts a top spec d&b rig. Y7P full-range loudspeakers do most of the work. Four 18-inch d&b subs provide all the low-end grunt you could ever want. “Originally the design was to have the DJ booth to the side,” recalled Jason Roonery. “We spec’ed four subs in order to electronically steer the low end away from the front wall. The position of the booth is now, more conventionally, shooting sound down the length of the room. So four subs is overkill but it’s a happy problem to have.”
The previous upgrade saw Pawn & Co. move to d&b but the team still did their due diligence and auditioned a handful of other premium alternatives. They came back to d&b. Josh sees the benefits in investing in high-quality audio: “There’s a level of quality you need to provide when you’re attracting ‘name’ DJs. Admittedly we’re a bar, not a festival or a nightclub, but great audio is still non-negotiable.”
Eventcraft: 0408 475 964 or www.eventcraft.com.au
NAS (d&b, DB Technologies, Ashly): 1800 441 440 or