How do you preserve the neglected nooks of your favourite city? Stick a bar in them! Jenny Valentish meets the revolutionary of the hospitality industry
“If I had to suggest the last team on earth I would barrack for, that would be Essendon,” declares Jerome Borazio, a steadfast Saints man. The Essendon-raised insurgent is sitting in the members-only Kelvin Club (est. 1927), which his management company, Nice and Easy, has just taken the reigns of. Job number one, clearly, was to relax the dress code.
“I guess that says more about my nature than anything. The fact that growing up, everyone barracked for Essendon, I didn’t find much enjoyment supporting the same idea. So I thought it would be interesting to push the envelope and go the other way.”
It’s this ethos that is at the root of the Borazio success story. With past venues numbering Softbelly Bar, La Cantina, Fringe, the Resurrection, Fantasia, Pushka, Birdbrain, the Public Bar, Shit Town (don’t ask) and St Jerome’s, and present ventures including 1000 Pound Bend, Happy Palace, Ponyfish Island, Sister Bella and the Workers Club, he’s a businessman who doesn’t hear the word ‘can’t’.
In these fast-moving times, when a bar can pop up one year and disappear the next, he’s the fastest mover of all, yet his main aim is preservation. “There are so many incredible spaces in Melbourne,” he says, “and those spaces are going to be lost if we don’t do something to protect them.”
While his Twitter account keeps you posted of his dizzying bar-hopping schedule, Borazio puts his success down to 6.30am starts, as well as keeping an open line of communication with his “inspiring” staff and being adaptive. He quotes the St Kilda footy club motto: Fortius Quo Fidelius – strength through loyalty.
Hospitality runs in the family. His father used to own Fitzroy’s Champion Hotel (across the road from the Workers Club, that Borazio owns now), and his family was a welcoming one, preferring that the kids bring all their friends over rather than prowl the streets. It was also a musical household – his mother was “extremely well-versed” in the piano, his father was a guitarist with impeccable taste in music and his sister Andrea is a talented singer and dancer. Given that Borazio’s ‘other’ claim to fame is the indie music festival Laneway, which is slowly but surely spreading across the globe, Time Out wonders if festival promoters, like journalists, are failed musicians.
“I did get a band together as a teenager,” he admits. “I built a band around this concept I had… and then just replaced myself before the very first practice.”
While he was preoccupied with sneaking into gigs underage, Borazio reckons his schooldays in Essendon were “awesome”. “I really loved learning, but I was threatened with expulsion a couple of times for challenging authority.”
When he left he studied property at RMIT and went into partnership with a couple of real estate practises. “It’s probably one of the greatest games in the world, but I didn’t want to be in real estate.” Instead, aged 18, he bought a pub – the Wayside Inn in South Melbourne. What made him think “I can do this” when others his age would just be downing pints? “I did that as well.”
Borazio’s current focuses include renovating 1000 Pound Bend with a new events space and working on some side projects with the Ponyfish brand, including producing their own beer and cider. Other than sending Laneway off on its excursions, he’s got no plans to move out of Melbourne.
“I’ve been a resident of the city for 19 years,” he says staunchly, "but I moved last month to East Melbourne. I thought it was still the city until I realised the postcode was 3002. I’m pretty upset about that.”
1972 Born in Essendon to a family with a love of hospitality and music
1990 Buys first pub, the Wayside Inn in South Melbourne
1990s Owns a couple of real estate agencies and backpacker businesses
2003 Opens ramshackle namesake bar St Jerome’s in Caledonian Lane
2004 Establishes St Jerome’s Laneway Festival in Caledonian Lane with Danny Rogers. It will later move to Footscray
2006 Laneway expands to Sydney. In yearly instalments it will add Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Auckland and Singapore.
2009 Opens CBD café/bar/venue 1000 Pound Bend, complete with gallery Rancho Notorious
2010 Turns the base of Southgate Pedestrian Bridge into bar/café Ponyfish Island
2012 Opens Happy Palace with Big Dog Creative's Josh Lefers: '80s Chinese restaurant-meets-Jackie Chan movie
2013 Enters into management of the members-only Kelvin Club. Expands Laneway to Detroit, USA