Steering clear of the commercialism that inundates Surfers Paradise up the other end of town – Neverland Bar has become a hotspot for those venturing around the QLD/NSW border. Music Feeds speaks to the bar’s venue manager – Jon Micallef – and discovers how he’s built up the venue to attract quality acts and offer something different for music fans on the Gold Coast.
MF: So Jon, fill us in on Neverland’s history?
JM: The bar itself has been through a multitude of evolution, and without being ‘officially quoted’ on her history, as far as we can track, it started out when a few buddies took the lease over and transformed the belly of the first Bank of Coolangatta into a cabaret lounge. It’s funny to imagine the ‘Dinner and Show’ concept these days, and I often think it’s a shame it’s still not the contemporary.
After a series of ownerships and a few failed attempts, it finally landed in our lap. Acknowledging the need to reintroduce a venue with a focus outside of the ‘surfer bar’ demographic, we set about developing an offering to the southern Gold Coast region that focused on a higher quality bar selection, unmatched and educated service, and a musical integrity never before enjoyed in this destination.
MF: Why did you decide to get involved with the venue and pursuing the type of acts which the venue receives?
JM: It’s funny looking back on the primary years of Neverland, and in particular its inception. I’ve never been the biggest fan of nightclubs per-say and it’s probably a reflection on the layout and bar offerings of Neverland today. Our capacity is not massive at 300cap and I have always felt the space was a perfect size to incubate intimacy and interaction amongst a transient customer base. I loved that the building allowed us to spread into awkward corners and over 2 levels; I always felt that it supported organic segregation, yet through its walkways and stair spaces it encouraged accidental or ‘chance’ interaction with lesser known friends.
Over the years, I continued to watch the leaky boat that was to become the ship Neverland as it has a particularly unique license for this area, and with that comes a perfectly rare opportunity to give our town a fresh and lively gift. When the time was right, we got together and made our intention to take on the challenge very clear to the previous owner, and before I knew it, there I was building a dance floor.
MF: What have been some of the best acts you’ve lured to the venue – and the most memorable gigs you’ve held there as well?
JM: The line-up we have introduced over the 3 years of Neverland has been enormous, ranging from Grinspoon to Peaches; The Presets to Donovan Frankenreiter, and in a lot of ways unmatched, producing some of the best shows I have honestly seen in my life. But when it comes to the most memorable shows we have hosted, it seems to always be the friends we have made that make the experience of live music so special.
The most successful shows are always the musicians/DJs who understand and value their fans more intimately. We continue to book artists who focus on their show rather than just their music, who value crowd participation and energy that allows them the confidence to give a little more of themselves, their personality, the reason for doing what they do. We are proud that our acts almost always stay back after their shows to drink at the bar and meet their fans. We love that we consistently host previous performers when they are in town holidaying or just passing through. It seems that over the years our acts are just as proud to play Neverland as we are to have them play for us.
MF: Do you think the venue tailors to a certain type of crowd or certain types of bands?
JM: We are really lucky geographically. Our proximity to Byron Bay and Brisbane allows us to take advantage of the ‘passing through’ of entertainers, and we continue to offer special shows from much bigger acts than a 300cap venue would ever usually accommodate.
Although our town is recognised as probably the biggest tourism port in Australia, our main focus remains on our local clientele. We feel that our number one supporters deserve the best. Our intention is to offer an amazing time with amazing friends enjoying amazing local, national and international acts. We discourage excessive liquor consumption and have zero toleration to disrespectful behaviour. Our venue only exists because of our customers, so we aim to offer only the finest in beverages, service, and entertainment from every reach of the world. Our relationships with our touring acts are forged on our love for who they are and not necessarily on what they do, and we are so very proud to offer a safe, clean, and friendly environment that sounds crisp and explosive every time you visit us.
MF: Finally, what are your goals for the venue and plans for it in the future?
JM: Refine, Surprise, and Raise the bar. I want to learn more about the ever-changing environment that is hospitality and apply more of my knowledge to improve the experience for everyone (including my phenomenal staff) that steps into the belly of Neverland. I want to work closer with the acts to insure their shows are tailored even more to the desires of our supporters and improve on our relationships within our community. I have some new concepts in development that focus on the interaction of our customers throughout a night with us and many new structural refinements that make you as comfortable in Neverland as you are on your couch at home.