The Bibliotheca Bar and Book exchange is one of Adelaide’s hidden gems in the small bar scene. Roman Tazhdynov and Marina Tazhdynova are the Russian born husband and wife team behind this unique venue, and have been calling this little nook in the wall on Gresham Street in the city’s West end home for the past three years.
The bar is well known for great cocktails, an eclectic collection of books that you can read and exchange, and provides an inviting space for some quiet down time while sipping on a delicious cocktail or two. The bar is almost theatrical in nature, and heading in there takes you in to their world, where the hours can easily pass by while you relax and unwind. The Bibliotheca bar is one of my absolute favourite small bars in Adelaide. It was such a pleasure to sit down with the team behind the venue, find out more about what life is like in the small bar scene, and gain an insight into some exciting developments coming up for this team.
The introduction of the small bar license has given the Hospitality industry in Adelaide a new lease on life. Roman says that when the scheme first started, they were all called “small bars”, but many of those venues have stood the test of time and are now well established and prominent players in their own right. “That is a big achievement for the Adelaide Hospitality scene in general” he says. When asked about the competition with larger venues, Roman doesn’t believe that small bar presents too much competition for the pubs as they are offering something quite different to the market.
Originally getting in to Hospitality whilst in University in Moscow, and like many they tried working elsewhere, but the lure of the bar and a love of the industry was too strong and drew them back in. They immigrated to Adelaide 5 ½ years ago and fell in love with the place, choosing to make it their home and place of work by opening The Bibliotheca Bar and Book exchange three years ago. Over this time, they have solidified their place in what can be a tough market and are now a prominent player in the small bar scene. It is a great achievement for them to have the venue thrive in a tough market, and over this time Roman has become well praised for his knowledge and cocktail skill in the industry.
Marina sees the West end of the city transforming, and the small bar scene breathing new life back into the area. “This is a great transition for the city of Adelaide. It is taking time, but we still get people every day who have never been here before, and have a loyal base of regular customers as well which is really great”.
There are many challenges facing the industry these days, and small bars often have to charge a higher price for product. Roman says from a customer perspective “it’s understanding what we do, and why we do it this way”.
We know that the “Craft Bar” scene can’t compete with massive venues in terms of prices, and that is why the small bars go with a different product. Small bars are all about looking for the point of differentiation and working with that. “The scene is still pretty new in Adelaide so it’s about educating our customers”.
They both feel that finding good staff is always a challenge. The level of skill they look for in a cocktail bar tender is greater than a bar staff member in a pub, as they have a vast number of spirits and cocktails to remember. A big challenge is the standardized pay rate, meaning someone pulling a beer in a pub and someone who is a cocktail bar tender are on the same rate of pay, making it is hard to find people willing to learn the craft. What has worked well for the team at Bibiotecha is getting staff in with limited or basic experience, and training them in the way they do service.
Small bars also have challenges dealing with suppliers who are used to working with larger venues that have longer opening hours, so getting stock delivered in opening hours for small bars presents a greater challenge. On the up side, there are a lot of craft spirit makers entering the market who are trying to get their boutique lines in to the smaller bars.
“Paying close attention to everything is the key to staying at the top of the game” says Roman, and Marina uses the same principle in every business she has worked in;
“Do something for others that you would do for yourself. If you are happy with this drink, how it looks and tastes, then it will be good for everyone”.
Roman also believes that they treat everyone like their guests, not like their customer.
Over time they have continued to develop their niche market and refine their offering. Their customer base is quite broad, and they get people from all walks of life and all ages visiting their venue which makes it interesting.
“Just go for it, give it a try, look to evolve and see what works best for your business”. Their advice to those starting out in the industry and wanting to get in to the small bar scene,” Always keep learning, keep studying”.
“To have more, you need to do more. To do more, you need to know more”.
Extensive research happens before adding a new cocktail to the menu, and then they will look to find the right alcohol to work with. Every time they put a new cocktail on the list, it has to be perfect.
And some big news coming from the husband and wife duo is that they are in process of getting ready to open a new venue only a few streets away. There are a few closely held secrets, but what they can tell us is that they are opening a restaurant/bar that will still fall under a small bar license. The concept is close to a gastro pub with lots of great beers, whiskeys, and bourbons paired with food. We can’t wait for them to open their doors.
Pop down to The Bibliotheca Bar and Book exchange for a delicious cocktail or two and meet the team behind what I would say is one of Adelaide’s best small bars. Stay tuned for the announcement of their new venue opening soon.