One of Melbourne’s Most Innovative Bar Owners Launches a Gallery-Bar Hybrid

Written for Broadsheet

He’s the man behind acclaimed Bar Americano and world-class but now-closed Der Raum, Bar Economico and Bar Exuberante. And he believes the commercial art gallery model is broken.

Matt Bax has created standout hospitality concepts and experiences, but he’s also a self-taught artist – his father was an artist and art teacher – and he’s exhibited at prominent galleries around the world, such as Marquardt Ausstellungen in Munich. Bax has never shied away from doing things differently and says he’s only interested in projects with something new to say, try or achieve. Now, he’s launching another unconventional project that brings together the two forces that drive him.

“Art is too often pushed to the back of the entertainment queue,” Bax tells Broadsheet. His solution? Grau Projekt, a massive new art gallery and cocktail bar.

Grau means “grey” in German, which Bax says represents the grey area he is creating for audiences to experience art in an untraditional environment. “Artists will get the support they deserve, [and] people will get excited about getting out and seeing art,” he says.

After four years of searching for the perfect venue, he’s picked up a 1000-square-metre warehouse in Clifton Hill. Previously a women’s clothing manufacturer, the massive industrial space has 4.5-metre-high white walls, and windows overlooking the city. He’s not planning to overhaul it though.

“We want to preserve the character as much as we can,” Bax says. “Art is the hero here, and space needs little intervention.”

Grau Projekt will showcase the work of one artist every six weeks, alongside a concept Bax dubs “artist-curated drinking”, where each show is celebrated with a one-off cocktail created by his team in collaboration with the artist.

First up, Bax’s own exhibition, Cockrocker. “It’s big, dick-swinging abstract paintings,” he says. “To explore medium and masculinity in an era when painting and male identity seem like dirty words.”

Drinks will explore masculinity in culture. “The myth of the hero artist culture figure and the often-macho baggage that comes with it,” Bax explains. “Thinking about booze and art, [and] why we romance the heavy drinking that surrounds so many great artists – especially dudes and especially painters.”

Bax has been at the forefront of the cocktail evolution in Australia since his first venture, molecular gastronomy-focused bar Der Raum in 2001 (he relocated the concept to Munich in 2013 as Gamsei, which has since closed). Standing-room-only city spot Bar Americano opened in 2011, licensed for just 10 people and taking cues from Italian apertivo bars and prohibition-era drinking dens in the US. The also now closed Bar Exuberante was part Grand Budapest Hotel, part 1960s cruise-ship bar.

While Bax is keeping things close to his chest in light of the upcoming debut, his history proves it’ll be something special. He hints about reincarnating one of his more popular cocktails, the Hot and Cold Piña Colada (a brilliant concoction of warm, white-chocolate and coconut foam on top, and a cool, lavender-infused rum cocktail underneath) and can confirm that upcoming exhibitions will showcase Victorian artists Ravi Avasti and Suzie Blake.

Grau Projekt opens on November 22, 2018 and has a bookings-only policy. Early bird tickets are $30 and include one cocktail.

Grau Projekt
Level 1, 2–12 Alexandra Parade, Clifton Hill

Thu & Fri 6pm–11pm
Sat 3pm–11pm
Sun 11am–3pm


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