Achtung!Melbourne Hopes to Bring Community Spirit Back to the Local Arts Community

Photo: Nathaniel White | Art & Design: Camilla Eustance, Abbey Rich & Oscar Shaw

I had my first proper conversation with Oscar Shaw while we were walking home, after work one night. We met while working in a busy and popular late-night cocktail bar, right in the middle of the Melbourne CBD. I remember feeling a warmth and sense of inclusivity from him, both rare qualities to find in someone you’ve just met; and I was drawn to it immediately.

Oscar is the kind of person who loves to create spaces. He loves to host, bring people together and make memories. When I’m in his presence, I’m always reminded to be in the moment and to enjoy life as it’s happening around me.

So, when he started talking about opening his own venue, I knew it would be something special.

With a background in hospitality (he’s currently the bar manager of The Everleigh) and theatre, Oscar’s venue will combine the two, creating spaces for artists to work and perform and giving back to the artistic community, all while pumping out some top-notch drinks.

Achtung!Melbourne is a modern cocktail bar, with community-minded outcomes,” Shaw tells Thrillist Australia.

“It’s all about trying to use a space more efficiently, so it serves as so much more than a bar. The venue will have an arts studio and band room, which will be free for local artists to use. I want there to be an artistic bend throughout the whole arc of the venue.”

The concept for Achtung!Melbourne, was inspired by the early-Bauhaus movement, famous for bringing art, aesthetics and design to everyday function. “Achtung” means “attention” in German, and is the word found on official government signs around Germany.

“The Bauhaus technical school’s first major contract was to design all the warning signs in Germany,” Shaw explains, as the pieces come together in my mind, “so all the Achtung signs in Germany today were actually designed by the Bauhaus school.”

Therefore, “Achtung! Melbourne” directly translates to “Attention! Melbourne”, which makes sense given the nature of the venue being one that opens up opportunities for local artists, making consuming and creating art accessible in ways it often is not.

“One thing I’ve always really noticed in Melbourne, is that it’s hard to find affordable rehearsal space and studio space,” says Shaw, who was born in London, lived in The Gambia in West Africa during childhood and then New Zealand, until moving to Melbourne in 2014.

“When I was in Wellington in NZ, there were more multi-use spaces, especially in hospitality venues. There were cafes and bars that offered up their space cheaply, for artists to use as rehearsal or studio space, or as a venue to hold exhibitions and shows. I want to be part of creating more spaces like that for artists in Melbourne.”

“I also think that historically bars have always been community spaces,” he continues. “Before social media, you’d go to the pub and hope your friend would be there, you know? Especially in the arts community, it was all about late-night cafes in Italy, bistros in France—where you’d find all the artists hanging out. This is the case in some country towns, but it’s been scrubbed out of mainstream hospitality spaces in bigger cities.”

This made me think about the hospitality venues I know and love. Although I do adore going into bars, restaurants and cafes daily, they definitely are a bit separate from us. It’s rare to find a bar that has a huge community mentality, a place where you always know that there’ll be a friend inside, a place that offers a space to be creative as well as a space to drink.

“The arts community has always thrived having bars in their corner,” says Shaw.

“Bars have historically been places where creative people hang out, and often, bartenders themselves also work in the arts. I feel like there’s an opportunity to be more ambitious with how a venue uses its space.

“Perhaps people are afraid to lean in, but you’ve just got to sometimes; if you want to be part of a community.”

In the lead-up to opening Achtung!Melbourne mid-2023, Shaw is in the midst of putting on a series of pop-ups, to trial different cocktails, menus, artistic mediums and processes, through a slowly-growing community of friends and acquaintances on social media; one that we’re all invited to.

With three down and the next planned for a few weeks’ time, each pop up brings something new and interesting ideas to the forefront. His first pop-up was all about the cocktails. Housed in Brunswick Street’s resident drum and bass venue, Radio Bar, Shaw served up a twist on classics, such as the piña colada—making the coconut element refreshing and the pineapple element rich and creamy — giving us a taste of what he could do with drinks.

The second pop-up, set in the second-storey of an underrated French bistro on Gertrude Street, complete with naked lady murals on the walls, dim lighting and “upbeat music people haven’t heard before”. The cocktail list was new and delicious, with a table of charcuterie and a real Bauhaus energy to the space.

Achtung! 2.0. Photo by William Shearman.

The third was in a double storey cafe in Abbotsford, which is closed due to renovations. Entering via the side courtyard — where they currently serve take away coffees — this pop-up was a more artistic journey; from cocktails on the way in, to projections by local artists on the bare walls inside; to a play, written and directed by a local playwright, being projected on the walls upstairs.

Each pop-up has featured different cocktails, differing versions of the same concept, and an ever-expanding menu, which doubles as a zine; created by… you guessed it! A local artist.

Achtung! 3.0 cocktail menu and zine, designed by Camilla Eustance.

“We’re hoping to expand the zine for this next pop-up,” Shaw says, “including more written content, like poems, art and stories. We want to broaden people’s horizons. You come, you have a good time, and then you take home the menu/zine and continue to learn more and feel inspired.”

This next pop up, although dates are TBC, will likely centre around Achtung’s very first show; The Break. Given that Achtung! will be part bar, part art space, the business itself will be divided into Achtung!Art and Achtung!Bar, which will both fall under Achtung!Melbourne. Achtung!Art will include shows that Shaw himself put on, as well as others who use the space. It will also encompass all of the different ways that the art community will become involved with the venue, as it develops. Think things like roaming exhibitions, a space for rehearsals, a music video, for writers to come together and discuss ideas… etc. Achtung!Bar simply refers to the bar itself, which will be housed within the venue, as well as in pop up spaces for events, shows, exhibitions etc.

The Break, a show written and directed by Shaw, centres around unconventional grief, using sequences of movement and dance, and a series of short vignettes. Likely, this will be the centrepiece for the next Achtung!Melbourne pop up.

Although Achtung!Melbourne is still very much in its developmental phase, the pop-ups are cause for excitement. Shaw is looking to carve out a space in the Melbourne hospitality and arts scene that creates space for artists to create, and for people of any background to consume and learn and enjoy.

“Society puts pressure on things to be profitable, and art is always a victim of that, as is hospitality,” says Shaw. “If you think about starting a bar because you want to serve people and talk to people every day, you’re being less pretentious already.”

“It’s hard to make money from art, and even harder to make the art you want to make profitable. I’m hoping that Achtung! will be able to support artists present their art, without worrying about whether it’s cool or profitable. Art doesn’t have to be pretentious if it’s showing people something genuine, and not because you think it will make you rich.”

“By-product of commercialism is status hunger; we all feel the need to be known and well-regarded. Whereas, I think that with both art and bartending, there’s no problem with showing up every day and doing the work. We just need the space to do so.”

You can follow all the upcoming Achtung! events, pop-ups and developments on Instagram, at @achtungmelbourne.

Achtung!Art presents The Break, will be on the 26, 27 and 28 of April, at Radio Bar on Brunswick Street. Tickets will be advertised via Instagram here.

Pop up details are TBC. Watch this space.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.