It was the out-there wishful thinking of Adelaide designer Peter Coombs to use an old bowling alley for the “gin bar” inside the newly renovated Salopian Inn, McLaren Vale.
The salvaged wood has gone into the main bar top as well as four others dotted around the Salopian, together measuring 17m in length.
Coombs was also integral to another inspired piece of recycling, choosing old Fowler Vacola glass jars for the restaurant’s interior lighting.
The Salopian restaurant and bar is a partnership involving well-known McLaren Vale chef Karena Armstrong and her husband Michael; along with wine-making couple Elena and Zar Brooks, of Heirloom Wines.
Peter’s design involvement arose through an old friendship with Michael.
“I did their engagement ring, presents for their kids, designed all sorts of stuff for them over the years. He says to me, ‘I need you to build me a bar’, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, okay’,” Peter says.
“He caught me as I was about to go overseas. His idea of one bar was actually five.”
The Salopian fit-out - stripped, cleaned and opened to natural light – is also the work of designer Claire Kneebone, whose portfolio includes other city bar-restaurants Press and Udaberri.
Peter says that after seeing Claire’s design concepts, he immediately thought of bowling alley wood and mentioned it to Michael.
Michael casually raised it with the project’s builder, whose brother-in-law in Sydney just happened to have acquired a former bowling alley. Voila.
The brother-in-law was reluctant at first but finally parted with the wood on the promise that every bit of it would be re-used.
The wood is laminated larch pole pine – a material grown at high altitudes in northwest United States and southwest Canada. Valued for its waterproof and durable qualities, larch is also commonly used for building boats.
“(It’s) a dense, beautiful, soft, golden colour,” in Peter’s words.
He made the inner-steel ribs for the bars at his eastern suburbs workshop and then installed the larch counters on-site.
The front of the counters is MDF painted with clear acrylic, which Peter says gives the surface reflection and depth. The front is striped with old gum or black butt, perfectly machined by Ben Brooks, Zar’s brother, whose idea it was of where to site the Salopian's long bar.
A process known as “skinning” was used, so while the wood was cut perfectly straight, its surface character was preserved. The bar was finished with an “amazing German oil” recommended to Peter by well-known Adelaide furniture maker Andrew Pfitzner, of Pftizner Furniture.
In another piece of serendipity, the Salopian’s new pendant lighting was found after Michael asked Peter if he knew anyone who made lights from old decanters.
Peter knew of a bloke in Geelong who turned old Fowler Vacola jars into lights, and they became the stunning answer.
Peter is perhaps best known for his range of eyewear – he recently won an Australian Good Design Award for his PCD Elements range at the 2013 Australian International Design Awards.
To him, all design is three-dimensional – whether it’s an engagement ring, a tasting table for Penfolds, a retirement gift for former Australian Test cricketer Michael Hussey, his award-winning eyewear or a 7.5m gin bar. The same skill set is used.
“If you were a musician, nobody would question it if you could play the piano and another instrument. Design is the same thing to me. It’s all 3D design.
“I just like making things – give me a challenge and I will take it.”
The Salopian bar boasts 63 different gins. The venue also acts as Heirloom’s cellar door.
Captions for picture below: the main bar showing its front detail; a close-up of the bar with it's steel racking also designed by Peter Coombs; smaller bar/counter; room divider also designed by Peter Coombs; inside the Salopian's dining room; chef Karena Armstrong sitting one of the newly installed bars; the steel ribs of the bar ready for assembly; the bar with its wooden top before being flipped and finished. Pictures: Peter Coombs