An Interview with Publican James Wirth for James Week

Welcome to James Week, Pedestrian’s celebration of the best, brightest and most easygoing James’ from across Australia. Why James and not Karl or Barry? Well our good friends at Jameson are looking for Australia’s most easy-going James. If you think that’s you or if you know one you should head over to the James Week page and get involved. The James they crown as Australia’s most easygoing will be flown to the Jameson distillery in Ireland and crowned as the Australian Jameson rep.

James Wirth or Bang Gang’s Jamie Doom as you may better know him if you spent any quality time in a club or dance music festival across Australia circa 2003 – 2008 is helping to transform Sydney bar culture. From The Flinders, Duke, The Norfolk, The Carrington and The Abercrombie he’s created an empire of culinary focused pubs across Sydney in just under 2 years. From downing a Jameson pickleback at 4.30am on Sunday morning to enjoying a leisurely Korean meatball taco in the sun he’s got you covered. James talks us through hanging up the headphones, creating mini-empires and bringing back the pub.

So you used to DJ back in the day? I used to. I’m retired haha.

What led to the retirement? I lost my headphones and I lost my CD wallet and I was like oh yeah, it’s probably a good time to retire.

Was the move from DJ’ing to opening the bars something that you were planning for a while? No not really, I used to DJ a lot when the Flinders came up – like DJ’ing was definitely a much more full time thing then. The Flinders guys asked myself and Gus- and we were like ‘yeah, sweet’ and then it kind of became apparent that to get the place open and really properly operating someone would have to actually get this place running. You know you can’t just rely on your staff, you know you can only rely on them so much, so myself and Gus just kind of were like ‘fuck we gotta get this place open, get it making some money to make our money back. And then especially when we opened Duke, the upstairs bit, it was like opening another business all over again. I think it was literally the day after opening Duke we started work on the Norfolk.

Seems like it’s never ending, it’s like once you’ve finished one the next one happens. Yeah, I’ve pretty much opened back-to-back venues since April 2010 – it’s like moving house every day, you know that kind of feeling? I was working lots at Flinders and Duke and our landlord at the Norfolk is one of my business partners at the Flinders and he bought the Norfolk – and he was trying to find tenants.

So you’ve started a mini Empire? How do you find time to sleep? Oh I sleep pretty well. it’s settled down a bit now we know what we’re quicker at doing it and we’ve got lots of other good people involved. I think I worked every day for about 5 months when we were opening the Norfolk. And that was at the same time that my girl was pretty heavily pregnant so that was a bit full on, but you know – you’ve just gotta do it. Can’t DJ forever so I was like, alright here’s something new to do so then yeah – with a 7 day business you don’t get a chance to rest. Just the nature of the game.

So yeah, you’ve got a child now? Having a kid is kind of good because after work you just go home – because you have to – when you don’t have a kid you’re at the same pubs every night of the week.

For most of your DJ career people knew you as Jamie can you tell us why you’ve started to shift back to James? I haven’t really changed it back. I was born James. I was called Jamie from when I was a little kid. I changed it for some reason to Jamie when I started using it as my DJ name. Then I started DJ’ing as James Bad for a while when I was playing stuff other than techno and thought it suited me better as a dad. How’s that for a long story about nothing!

Do you feel like a lot of your old Bang Gang clientele are now coming into some of your establishments? Is it a bit surreal to see faces that you would have seen in clubs 5 years ago? I don’t know if I remember that many of the clientele that came to Bang Gang to be honest. Nah there is some. Definitely. People that were my age at Bang Gang, have got jobs and I guess like me are going to pubs rather than staying out till 5am listening to techno.

Is there an overarching concept behind the venues? Yeah, I mean our whole thing is just like food and booze you know? It’s not meant to be anything more than that. It’s kind of like becoming what a pub is about – somewhere to eat and hang out. Like the Norfolk you can come and play pool, or you can watch sports or you can chill in the beer garden or you can drink all night or you can come for an hour. Like it’s kind of just meant to be like come and use it when you want. The Carrington, you know, it’s a much smaller space, there’s no beer garden but it’s more about food and dining and there’s a bit of table service. So you’ve kind of got to do what each venue lets you do.

Do you think that people are changing their perception of what bars can be as a result of yours and other ones that are opening in Sydney?
I hope so, I mean it seems like there’s a bit of shift back to just bars and pubs. A vast majority of pubs have been done so wrong for so long that people have kind of forgotten what pubs can be. It’s not rocket science, it’s just kind of stripping it back to basics. Like when you compare a pub to a nightclub – pubs, doesn’t cost you to get in. Booze is cheap once you’re in, there’s usually spaces to hang out whereas in a club it’s expensive to get in, it’s expensive to hang out there. People weren’t going to pubs for so long that they kind of forgot that there’s this whole other thing that pubs can offer.

The Flinders helped popularise the Pickleback in Sydney – where did the inspiration come from? It all came from our old manager, Andy Penny. All credit should go to him really. I think the inspiration came from a hamburger somewhere.

Is there anything else you want to say about whiskey? Drink it with ginger beer and red wine. It’s a surprisingly good combo. Or tea bags. It’s also a good drink for when you have nothing left to mix it with in a hotel room.

Stay tuned for more James week and if you know an easygoing James or you are one don’t forget to head to the James Week page now.

Title Image Provided by James Wirth