Before Brunswick was the happening scene, cookie-cutter trade stores ruled the town. That was until Sway Quach and her partner took over a run-down jewellery shop. The owner skipped the rent, then skipped town, and so it was that Tom Phat became the Brunswick institution that it is today. Local legend Dave Kerr rolled into the bar with Pete Tarasiuk as the man on film to chew the phat…
Tom Phat. That’s pretty cool. How long have you guys been here?
Just over twelve years now.
Have you had a recent rebrand? It seems pretty modern and on trend.
Oh my god, I feel like it’s really outdated! It’s organically evolved from where it was — you fix things and get new things, but when I look at all these new, flashy, trendy places, I’m like oh my god…
So twelve years is a super long time for a venue in this city, so where did you come from to get to here?
Well my ex was the chef and I was front-of-house at a place in Brunswick St, Fitzroy, where it was really happening.
And that was?
Vegie Bar. So we were there doing that until we thought, hey — we’re living in Brunswick, and we’re looking around and realising there are like minded people walking up Sydney Road, but where are we all going? To Fitzroy for coffee, right? So we said ‘let’s do something in Brunswick.’
What was it like when you started, twelve years ago?
Oh my god it was nothing. There was like a furniture shop next door and he said that we wouldn’t make it, and I think there was Kaleidoscope & Cornish, but everything else was emptied and graffitied.
You were the trendsetters.
It was a little bit like that, yeah… starting up where we’re trying to make it happen.
Fortune favours the brave man.
We’re doing it again… an Indian place up near Albion St.
We love it. I looked around and then I thought you know what, I really love Brunswick. It’s what I know, it’s what I do, and here we go again.
Are there any other local restaurants that kind of inspire you, or like you said, you’re kind of the pioneers? Did Vegie Bar have a big impact on you?
Vegie Bar was this crazy place, and it did inspire me in the terms of moving forward. It was constantly changing, it was crazy, and I thought okay, that’s life, life is constantly evolving, and yeah I was inspired for sure.
Do you have a favourite place to eat that isn’t here, in Brunswick?
I go to Footscray.
Keeping it ghetto?
I like my Vietnamese Footscray and my Middle-Asian Kensington.
That’s real, what was in here before you guys took it over?
A jewellery shop in Tom Phat, and then on this side, Bar Phat, was originally a cafe serving South African/Greek food. I don’t know why it didn’t do so well because I can imagine the fusion, but then it became an internet shop. He did a runner one night, and I remember saying, you know mate, this is my opportunity. I’ve wanted this little space for my cocktail thing right, and we’ve got to grab it.
Knocked a hole in the wall and here we have Bar Phat. Most ordered dish?
People love the Pork Belly.
Who doesn’t? Most cringeworthy hospo moment?
I remember my first night trialling at Vegie Bar, I was holding two mango smoothies and I was walking to a date table, don’t know what happened but next thing I had painted her with smoothie…
Not so smooth.
I was like, should I go home now?
But you got the job. What’s your go-to drink, your go-to knockoff? What are you drinking when you’ve finished a shift?
I drink coconut water or kombucha. If I had to have a favourite, it’d be the ginger bits.
So Brunswick. Can you explain to me real quick, there’s Tom Phat and then there’s Bar Phat, so is this kind of a flow over?
The cocktails all flow from Bar Phat, so we’ll have a bartender on full time who serves the two Phat’s. It used to be so crazy busy that we would have to always send people away, and that’s when we were like let’s open a separate bar where people can chill out and not have to be turned away… There are so many amazing places on Sydney Rd now.
Do you go to Howler at all?
I love Howler. I cant believe we have it, it’s such an amazing space and music venue.
Where is this new place? let’s wrap with that…
Bhang. Indian. Up Sydney Road. That’s B-H-A-N-G.
Got it. Great name.
I’m pretty excited, it’s going to be a really cool spot.
Sway, good luck with your three joints and thank you.
184 Sydney Rd, Brunswick