In The Spotlight: Lachlan Howarth From Varnish On King
If you haven’t been to Varnish on King yet, we recommend a visit next time you are in the Perth CBD.
Located down Perth’s trendy King Street, Varnish on King – or Varnish as it is affectionately known – is a speakeasy style whiskey bar with a log cabin feel.
The timber and exposed brickwork gives the bar a cosy intimate feel that doesn’t age.
Varnish is a great place to visit on a winter’s day for a warming whiskey on the rocks, or to share some of their superb dishes with your friends.
So with winter coming we thought we would introduce you to Varnish and one of its co-owners Lachlan Howarth. We interviewed Lachlan to find out more about the bar, it’s history and its successes. Here is what he had to say.
Describe how you came up with the concept for Varnish?
At the time of inception there were no basement or American whiskey bars in Perth. We felt there was an opportunity within the market to bring something new and fresh to the city.
How did you get your idea off the ground?
A long and arduous business plan was the start. To cut a long story short it involved getting all the ideas onto paper, including a storyboard of design ideas and textures. Then finding a draftsman to markup the sketches and away we went.
What challenges did you face when setting up the business?
The neighbours were nervous – for good reason I suppose. We were bringing a bar to King Street with residents living opposite it. Also Liquor Licensing was a trialling process to say the least. These were the main hurdles we had to jump over.
How did you decide on the location of Varnish?
The landlord presented us with the opportunity. Andy [my partner] owns Luxe Bar and the landlord also owned that building too.
What inspired you to theme Varnish the way you have?
We wanted it to be timeless. If you came down to Varnish now or in 3 years time it will look the same. It hasn’t dated and it won’t date in the future. We like to think it will get better with age. We wanted a log cabin feel that was warm and cosy and felt comfortable for everyone.
What type of food and drinks do you serve and what makes the food and drink special to other places in Perth?
Our food menu is designed for all dishes to be shared, what we call ‘conversational style dining’. We encourage people to order as many dishes as they want and we bring each one out as it’s ready. The style of food has subtle American influences.
I think the thing that makes our food offering special is that we offer proper meals. Even though we are a small bar at heart our kitchen is pumping out some of the tastiest dishes in town.
Our drinks focus on American Whiskey. We serve more than just Whiskey and coke. We have a number of unique ways to enjoy the spirit, whether it’s matched with bacon or pickles, we always try to give our customers a fun experience.
How do you find talented staff to bring the extra wow factor to the business? What talent do they bring?
Our staff are what makes our venue live and breathe. Everyone has a different personality.
I love that our staff don’t take themselves too seriously, but they take what they do very seriously.
For Varnish it’s not about an individual skill, anybody can learn how to carry plates and mix drinks. For us it’s about their ‘chat’, charisma and personality.
Being such a small team, it’s really important that our staff don’t clash so we work really hard on creating a fun and professional culture where everyone gets along and has fun with each other.
Describe the growth of Varnish, how successful has it been?
The first three years of business have surpassed some goals we set for ourselves.
In 2014, we won Best Small Bar In Australia at the Bartender Magazine Awards. The following year we won the national award for Best Bar Food. With the Northbridge link almost complete, Elizabeth Quay open and part of King Square being occupied, we are very excited for the future of the Perth CBD.
Where do you source your food and drinks from?
Our food comes from local suppliers. Our head Chef, David Allison, believes in sourcing as much local fresh and sustainable products as he can get his hands on. Most of our ‘top shelf’ whiskies come direct from either the US or the UK market.
What are your plans for the future of Varnish?
We are always challenging ourselves to get better and create new and exciting experiences for our guests. Keeping our menus current and fresh is a bit part of that.
Our future for Varnish is to consistently provide our guests with a quality food and booze offering, serving it all up in a fun, casual laid-back manner.
Expansion, maybe. We’ll see what the future delivers I guess.
Who are the other owners of Varnish?
Aside from myself, there is Andy Freeman, Guy Ellis and Robin Jackson.
Varnish was really the brainchild of Andy. He bought myself, Rob and Guy together back in 2012.
Andy and I run the day-to-day business, while always keeping Guy and Rob in the loop.
Guy runs the Perth Social Club while Robin runs his own construction business.