How two of Australia's best bartenders opened Pearl Diver Cocktails & Oysters

Despite living through the world's longest lockdown, Alex Boon and Pez Collier have opened something special. Here's how.

How two of Australia's best bartenders opened Pearl Diver Cocktails & Oysters
The bar at Pearl Diver Cocktails & Oysters in Melbourne. Photo: Supplied

How does one open a bar in a year like 2021? In the second instalment of this four-part video series, we hear from two passionate providers of hospitality doing just that: Alex Boon and Pez Collier.

They're two of Australia's best bartenders, and they recently opened their first bar Pearl Diver Cocktails & Oysters in Melbourne. Sam Bygrave spoke to them over Zoom in the weeks leading up to opening to find out just how they've gone about getting the doors open, how they come up with creative ideas, and why they put together an 82 page dossier on every aspect of the guest experience.

Watch the video above, and below, get a look at the takeaways we picked up from talking to Boon and Collier.

How do they know when they're onto a good idea?

There’s a big difference between having ideas and having good ideas. Bartenders are a creative bunch, but how do you know when you’re onto something that is good and has some staying power?

“When we went through the process of honing in on the ideas for this, this specific one, which was going through the Speakeasy Pathway To Partnership Program, we developed maybe 12, different ideas,” says Collier.

“We broke that down into six different ideas... so we’ve got, you know, a bunch of ideas that are kind of sitting in the wings. Because this program was almost like a competition, we did have to think about things in terms of longevity, in terms of scaling, in terms of developing a concept, which we think won’t only just last the test of time, but can potentially grow as well, like, we have this idealistic dream of having a Pearl Diver in Noosa.”

“And also doing something that we’re just very excited about,” says Boon. “I think the test of a really good concept is when you’re 100 percent down with everything, it’s about right. Every time we spoke about it, we’d get really excited about what we were talking about, we’d just brainstorm for hours on end. To me, that when I knew it was gonna hopefully be a really successful idea.”

They documented and prepped every part of the guest experience before opening

Lots of bartenders are talented, lots of them are creative. But being detail-oriented — almost to the point of obsession — is a trait that some of the best operators share.

Before work even began on site, Boon and Collier had thought through every little detail — from the coasters to the cutlery, from the welfcome to the goodbye — and written it all down.

“We wrote a whole bunch of guest experiences essentially,” says Collier. “We broke it down from a perspective of going, if I’m a guest, what do I want out of this venue? And so from that guest experience draft that we did, we created the venue and crafted the venue and the concept and the delivery and the service.”

“We pretty much created a thesis,” says Boon.

“Yeah, it was an 82 page document. What’s the cutlery gonna look like? What glassware are we looking at? What does the host say when they walk in?” Collier says.

Pearl Diver Cocktails & Oysters. Photo: Supplied
Pearl Diver Cocktails & Oysters. Photo: Supplied

They've had the benefit of drawing on the experience of the Speakeasy Group

Though the concept and the legwork in opening Pearl Diver Cocktails & Oysters is all Boon and Collier, they’ve had the benefit of going through the Speakeasy Group’s Pathway to Partnership Program. The program sees the Speakeasy Group — whose venues include Eau de Vie, Boilermaker House, Nick & Nora’s in Melbourne and Sydney and more — provide back office support and investment, and a fifty-fifty share of ownership with Pez and Collier.

“We had the we have the luck of having insight into multiple different businesses across both Sydney and Melbourne with the Speakeasy Group,” says Collier. “We definitely sat down and discussed like, should we wait? But I think the confidence that I feel about it is seeing the success of Nick & Nora’s and some of the other [Speakeasy] venues — when they can trade, they’re trading really, really well. So one thing that we’ve noticed is when people can be out and about in Melbourne, they’re really making the most of that opportunity, and spending a lot of money in venues.”

Their concept puts fun front and centre — reflecting who they are

Despite the fact that these two bartenders are well versed in all the technique and all the avant-gard approaches to drinkmaking — they’re both competition-winning bartenders after all — they never take their eye off the hospitality and what all that technique ought to be in service of.

“The way I guess we’ve always seen it, especially our ethos for Pearl Diver is, you know, Is it fun? Does it tastes delicious? Does it look pretty? Put it on the list,” says Boon.

Where you can, use the professionals to bring your ideas to life

Not every first-time bar owner has access to interior designers and custom paint specialists, but that has been one of the benefits of Boon and Collier partnering with the Speakeasy Group.

“If you can work with the professionals do it because the way that they decoded our vision, and elevated it has been amazing,” says Collier.

“My advice would just be to shop around because as I said, the quotes between different things can be can be massive.”

They're living and breathing every moment of this bar

Not only did Boon and Collier make the most of a tough situation by using the lull of pandemic lockdowns to thrash out every little detail of the bar, they’re planning to be very much present every hour for the foreseeable future.

“We have such a strong vision and such a distinct vision based on on the work that we’ve done previously on this concept, that for it to align with that vision and that direction, we need to be there steering the ship every day,” says Collier.

More in this series