Wonder Bar Design's Build Report.
The LuWOW was originally a Centre Link Dole office, and had been converted into a bar business by the previous tenants. The overall design brief was to create a fully themed Tiki Bar and retro music venue, something that surprisingly up till now had not been attempted in Melbourne.
The space was divided into two rooms, that were essentially OK but that presented several issues that were hampering the business. Bad lighting, bad acoustics, small bar area, blank walls uninviting exterior and entrance were just some of these.
I decided to work with the divided space and emphasise the two rooms with a different take on the tiki theme in each, whilst improving the layout to provide adequate sound separation between the rooms.
The front bar area would be called "The Island Village" and be decorated in the style of a nice and sunny classic tiki bar, whilst the rear band room/ disco would be a lot darker with more of that tropical adventure movie/jungle/leopard skin feel "The Forbidden Temple".
The Forbidden Temple opens on weekend nights in conjunction with the front bar and during the week as a separate venue. A different cocktail list is available in each room with the emphasis in the back room being for faster easier drinks such as punches and layered cocktails.
The first step in the design process was to find ways to reduce the one level cavernous feel of the space. This was done by building raised and roofed booth seating and reducing ceiling height by suspending carved canoes and Bamboo lighting in the front Bar. In the Forbidden temple we built crumbling faux stone pelmets on the stage and bar areas and established a network of vegetation that grew out across the ceiling from the pillars onto the lighting rig. The achieved affect managed to give both bar areas much more intimacy, whilst retaining the feeling of the large space.
Both areas benefited from different colour schemes and building materials. Wood and bamboo tones were used in the front and in the back I restricted myself to green stone, jade and metallics. I am particularly proud of the dilapidated jungle temple with its multitude of influences. One can see bits of Indian, Siamese, Polynesian, African and South American ancient civilizations present in the décor as well as plenty of skulls and skeletons hiding in the vegetation. Indiana Jones would feel right at home here.
In the Temple I revisited the showgirl statue idea, used in Devilles Pad, with a pair of spear wielding Amazon maidens adorning the side recess and a multi limbed cocktail Goddess on the back bar. An array of fantastic weaponry, lavish curtaining, cast heads, and dangerous fauna completed the décor.
A jungles worth of artificial plants were dissected and positioned through the venue. Wonderbar carved most of the tikis from wood and fire retardant foam with additional ones supplied from swap meets/second hand shops and a shipment ordered from Oceanic Arts in LA. The foam Tikis were covered in acrylic cement compound and painted to reassemble stone/wood.
The floor, supplied by NBD designer floors was also themed to suit each room. In the Island Village vinyl faux wood planks of three different types were mixed up, and laid to give the illusion of a worn surface. In the Forbidden Temple copper coloured marble was laid with a cream edge around a dark blue resin pool. WonderBar created the pool in conjunction with Solid Solutions using a Resin designed for industrial mining applications. Clouds of pearlised colour, glitter were swirled with dark blue resins of different shades to create the illusion of a jungle pool.
The Booth seating by Hotfurn interiors was made specifically for the spaces provided in matching shades of High Gloss nut brown and pistachio green. The foyer was fully decorated to match the Island Village, with a progressive deterioration towards the Island temple. A fish tank displaying Tiki Mugs for sale amongst the fish was added to a spare cashier window. The exterior was completed with 3D signage, a stone planter, and flat wooden Tikis.
The LuWOW is Melbourne's "it" place to go for drinking, dancing and hijinkey ...
- The Herald
If you take all the narcoleptic copy about Melbourne's 'hidden laneway bars', print it out, douse it in Wray and Nephew overproof rum, put it in a sacrificial urn of some kind, set it on fire and pray to the Tiki Gods for somewhere interesting to get a drink in this town you get The LuWOW.
It's a bar that is not designed so much as art directed. Fitting, as designer Josh Collins has a background in set and prop design for film. The venue is like a banana sundae being digested by the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Split in twain. Out front, the more traditionally Tiki 'Island Village' with cocktails and table service. Bar nerds shouldn't fret. Inclusion of Fog Cutters and Ti'Punches alongside the more common Mai Tais and Zombies shows they know their Trader Vic from their Don the Beachcomber. All served the way any decent Tiki drink should be: long, strong and preposterously garnished. The 'Forbidden Temple' is, if you'll forgive me, located in the rear. Spilling over into more Juxtapoz Magazine, custom kulture, pop-surrealism, lowbrow art (whatever you want to call it) territory. Raptors, skulls, fake rats, bar staff wearing leopard print turbans, and entertainment. Oh, the entertainment. The Johnny Nandez Hammond Explosion, polynesian and exotica shows. Our pal Richie1250 even got a berth playing records.
If it sometimes feels like somebody left the fun out of drinking in Melbourne it's probably just because it's all at The LuWOW. The place truly has to be seen. So ridiculously baroque, unselfconscious and elaborate is the interior that rum might not even be necessary to trigger altered consciousness. Come for the "Cocktail adventures in the high seas" and stay for the… actually, that's why you'll stay as well.
- The Thousands
... it's an absolute must for anyone with visiting the city, or anyone else who enjoys their tiki mugs served full of exotic mayhem ...
- Bottled Velvet
The South Pacific came to Melbourne this week with the launch of The LuWow, a new tiki bar that brings the beach (and a touch of bling) to Fitzroy. Owned by tiki-loving couple Josh and Barbara Collins – who have run tiki bars from London to Las Vegas – stepping into LuWow is like entering a magical world, kind of like when Dorothy stumbled into Oz and everything went technicolour.
Kitsch wooden doors lead to a tiki village of bamboo huts, plastic palm trees and carved idols – the sort of place you'd expect to see Indiana Jones having a drink. Over at the bar, staff in Hawaiian shirts (what else?) shake up cocktails topped with glazed cherries and little umbrellas. There's a stuffed shark on the wall and, somehow, it all seems just right.
Out back there's 'The Forbidden Temple', an even larger space with sunset-themed wallpaper, Hindu gods, glowing lights and skulls on sticks. In the centre is the tiki stage, featuring live bands and dancing on weekends. It's a helluva lotta fun, especially considering the place used to be a Centrelink.
But most important of all are the drinks, the cornerstone of any self-respecting tiki bar. They've got to be strong, colourful looking, colourful sounding, and strong. LuWow doesn't pull any punches with its punch, offering four pages of drinks with names like the Lava Flow, the Bikini Bottom, as well as classics like the Mai Tai. A few sips of these boozy brews will get you feeling like you're on holiday, which is what tiki is all about.
So next time you're heading down Johnston Street, stop by LuWow and treat yourself to a quick trip to the South Pacific.
- Agenda City Melbourne
62-70 Johnston St
Fitzroy, Victoria 3065
If it sometimes feels like somebody left the fun out of drinking in Melbourne it's probably just because it's all at The LuWOW. The place truly has to be seen... "
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