The Shout Magazine (New Zealand)

Spotlight on a Local: Love Not Lost

Serving up “damn fine” soul food, cocktails and craft beer, Love Not Lost in Wellington’s Courtney Quarter is a must-visit late-night lounge bar. Owner Benji Irvine shares an insight into the soulful styles of his new Allen Street venue.

How would you describe Love Not Lost and its atmosphere?

We’re a comfortable lounge bar open for casual dining and drinks seven days a week, 12pm-3am, although on Mondays and Sundays we run a limited menu to give our kitchen staff a rest. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and we tend to play blues and soul the majority of the time, although given the right crowd we’re not afraid to get a bit outrageous. During the weekend we have DJs from 10pm playing a variety of genres – house, techno, drum and bass etc.

Kitting the place out with a bunch of couches was a great decision because not only are they super-comfy to sit and drink a cocktail on, they’re great to collapse into if you’re having a boogie later at night and need to give your legs a rest. They’re also very moveable, so we can easily make space for a dance floor when the need arises.

How do you ensure that Love Not Lost stands out from the crowd?

I would say our décor, standard of service and product. Décor-wise, we’re still constantly adding things and switching stuff around (a friend once told me that a good bar is never finished) but the fact that 75% of the seating is nice leather couches that we purchased off the internet certainly makes an impression the moment you walk up the steps. My sister designed our logo and painted the mural on the wall, so there’s a nice homely touch there as well. We plan to get her to do a lot more art around the place in time.

Service-wise, we’re pretty laid back but our service and product knowledge is on point. Between myself and the first two staff members we hired alone there’s almost 30 years’ experience behind the bar. This contributes to us being able to consistently produce quality cocktails, no matter what you ask for. We also have 10 taps that have a pretty consistent rotation of awesome craft beer. The food is banging too – simple but really delicious. Our chef spent a bit of time working in New Orleans, so soul food is right up his alley.

What are you most looking forward to about the hospitality industry in 2021?

Hopefully being able to welcome foreigners into the country again in some form or other. Tourists are pretty crucial to our industry, not having as many around is certainly a blow. People on working holiday visas are also a massive pool to draw from in terms of staffing, so it would be nice to have them back!

What do you look for when hiring staff for your venue?

Attitude and initiative is key. You can teach anybody how to make cocktails, wait tables, pour wine, cook food etc. All of that is teachable given enough time. What you can’t teach is attitude and work ethic.

What are your top tips for being a great bartender?

  • Whether you’re mixing a cocktail, or you’re off duty and watching someone else mix one, don’t judge. There’s a million ways to make any cocktail based on a million different variables. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the way you do things/have been taught is the only way.
  • Save the bar flare for parties, unless it’s actively going to contribute to someone getting their drink quicker.
  • Do the crappy jobs, it’s character building.
  • Say yes to as many things as you can. Go to as many tastings/trainings as possible- even if the rep has scheduled it before 2pm.
  • And mix up your shake every once and a while, if you always do it the same way you’re much more likely to get repetitive strain injury.

Originally published in the March issue of The Shout NZ. Read the full issue below.

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