Pavement Whispers: Bar Hugo, a new bar serving vermouth, wine and small plates, is opening soon in West End

Pavement Whispers: Bar Hugo, a new bar serving vermouth, wine and small plates, is opening soon in West End

A pair of hospo up-and-comers are pooling their talents to open a new neighbourhood bar and eatery with a focus on vermouth, wine, low-ABV cocktails and small plates. Bar Hugo is currently taking shape on Hardgrave Road and is gearing up to be a great new addition to West End’s drinking and dining boom.

Though Nick Sebar and Shaun Kelly’s respective hospitality careers have taken them in different directions, the two high school mates never stopped entertaining the idea of one day opening a venue together. As Nick cut his teeth in Brisbane’s bar scene and Shaun entered the realm of fine dining, their shared vision of an approachable neighbourhood bar continued to crystallise over a series of ‘what if’ discussions.

Fast forward a few years and the duo is finally turning discussion into action with Bar Hugo, a bar and eatery currently taking shape inside a spacious tenancy on Hardgrave Road in West End.

“We always wanted it to be just a fairly casual neighbourhood venue – something for the locals,” reflects Shaun, who was recently maître d’ at Bacchus Restaurant in South Bank. “Then we found this place. It was pretty much perfect for what we wanted, so we decided to dive right in.”

At Bar Hugo, both young guns will be bringing their talents and personal tastes to the fore with an offering that’s a little bit off-centre. “We’re describing [Bar Hugo] as a wine and vermouth bar,” says Nick, formerly the manager of Savile Row in The Valley. “There will also be a small cocktail list with a big focus on low-ABV drinks and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as some eats.”

Bar Hugo’s beverage program will place vermouth in a starring role, with Nick relishing the chance to showcase the fortified wine’s versatility across a range of house cocktails – described as twisted classics with a focus on lower alcohol content. “It’s in a lot of cocktails, but it’s never the main thing – it’s always a supporting character,” says Nick. “There aren’t many rules around the production of it and there’s so many different aspects to it. You can do a lot with it.”

On the wine front, Shaun is in the process of assembling a tidy list that will tick most boxes. “People have very specific preferences when it comes to wine, so I want to try and have as much coverage as possible,” says Shaun, who estimates Bar Hugo will feature a worldly list boasting upward of 60 wines. “There will be a mix of everything – both sort of classic old-world styles and a bit of funky new-age stuff as well.”

The venue’s food offering will be a prep-heavy affair, with small, easily plated entree-style dishes expected to feature. “The thinking behind that is if you just want to pop in, you can have a glass of wine and a small bite to eat, and still go out to dinner after,” explains Nick. “But if you come with a group of people, you can get everything on the menu and still have a feed.”

The Bar Hugo space, nestled near Yoke Kitchen, is a deceptively deep venue. It’ll boast a number of seating areas (the estimated capacity will sit around 60 guests), including the main interior dining area, an airy back deck and a leafy garden space at the rear. There’s also potential for footpath dining, pending approvals. Nick and Shaun will be leaning into the venue’s timber-heavy bones, crafting an aesthetic comprised of darker tones lightened up with contrasting pops of yellow.

“We want it to be really light and breezy – with the backyard that made the most sense to us,” says Nick. “But then once it hits that 6:00 pm mark, we do want it to have a kind of coziness to it.”

Bar Hugo arrives at a time where West End is enjoying a bit of a golden period. Once open, it will join the likes of Flying Colours, The Twin, West Side Pasta, Mama Taco, GoodGoodCordeaux Social Club and Gum Bistro as part of a new drinking dining crawl linking Boundary Street, Vulture Street, Hardgrave Road and Montague Road.

“That’s the great thing about this place,” says Nick. “You want to have complimentary venues around you – you want it to be a social hub as opposed to just one freestanding bar.”

The Bar Hugo team is targeting late March or early April for the venue’s launch – stay tuned for more info soon.

The Stumble Guide is our comprehensive Brisbane dining guide with more than 2400 places to eat, drink, shop and play.

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