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Barge bar set for summer launch

David Schout

The launch of a twin-deck floating bar in Docklands could be just months away, with on-site construction set to begin soon.

Plans for the 550-patron event space near the Bolte Bridge, which could become one of Melbourne’s most unique venues, are awaiting approval from the City of Melbourne.

The bar, called ATET, will be located on the former barge of the Alma Doepel.

After the Alma’s long-awaited lift into local waters on October 16, its barge was returned to Victoria Harbour where it was transferred to new owner and ATET director Jake Hughes.

And while there were still several hoops to jump through before the floating venue welcomes its first patrons on board, Mr Hughes told Docklands News he was certainly not worried about any post-lockdown hesitancy from Melburnians.

“To be honest I think we’re at the beginning of a special time, in terms of the energy and excitement around people,” he said.

“Everyone will be out there celebrating life, celebrating freedom and being together again doing things we love. I think it’s going to be quite the opposite, really. We’re super excited to be part of this re-birth.”

Designed as an open-air space with a fully retractable roof and blinds to cater for any weather conditions that Docklands throws at it, ATET will largely be a fixed events space at the western edge of North Wharf, underneath the Bolte Bridge.

It would operate from 6am to 11pm Monday to Thursday, and 7am to 1am Friday and Saturday.

Off-site prefabrication work has taken place in recent months, including for the bar itself and toilet blocks.

Speaking with Docklands News in late October, Mr Hughes said they had hoped to get sign-off from different stakeholders in November before accelerating through the build.

By their own reckoning, it is somewhat of a miracle that ATET (a name derived from ancient Egyptian mythology) was set for a summer launch in the first place.

Mr Hughes said the team was “almost 100 per cent ready to put the project on ice for a year” as COVID-19 again placed Melbourne into an extended lockdown from early August.

So, while he’d been hopeful of a December launch in time for the busy Christmas period, he was happy to just take things as they come.

“We’re hoping for that [before the end of the year], but it’s very much a moving target right now,” he said.

 

We’d love to be ready to go as soon as possible. But the reality of what we’ve been through with COVID, and how much uncertainty there’s been, means it’s been tough.

 

As lockdowns dragged on through August and September, the team made a few design changes to ensure the project could get off the ground.

Several of these were operational, meaning that the “patron experience” won’t change.

However, the venue’s capacity will, at least in the early stages, drop from 700 to 550.

“That’s when we really had to reassess the build and see whether we could do things in a slightly more cost-effective and efficient way,” Mr Hughes said.

“To be honest, to come up with what we have, and be that close to the original concept in a way that we can get up and running this summer, that in itself is probably a miracle, really, considering what we were expecting a few months ago. So, while yes, it would be good to be up and running in time for the start of December, given the circumstances we’re just happy to be able to get going at all this summer.”

While the new space — touted as a “floating, open-air oasis designed for the ultimate party” — will be capable of hosting a diverse range of events, Mr Hughes said weekends would be for everyone.

“We’re sort of committed to not accepting private bookings on weekends. There might be the odd exception, but week-to-week there’ll be public events on weekends that everyone’s welcome to,” he said.

There was good news for Docklanders, too.

“We’re planning on doing a locals’ night where there’ll be specials for anyone who lives or works in the area and try to bring the local community into the space and make them feel at home.”

Above all, though, they hoped to provide a space people will enjoy spending time with those close to them, something denied to Melburnians for long periods since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s a pretty major thing, for society to be more or less locked down for the best part of 18 months — I know we’ve had little windows where we haven’t been — it’s been a more turbulent time, for people in our generational, than they’ve ever experienced. Often you see after turbulent times there’s a period of growth, so we think it’s going to be pretty exciting. And to be able to provide a space for people to get outside especially, rather than being in bars or nightclubs, and enjoying a drink and each other’s company in that sort of environment is going to be pretty special.” •

A new open-air floating bar near the Bolte Bridge could become one of Melbourne’s most unique nightspots.

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