Sitting seaside at Captain Baxter

Now that we’re heading into the colder months, we thought we’d share with you a (not-so) little spot by the sea in St. Kilda, where you can still soak up the beauty of longer days and sunnier skies. Enter Captain Baxter, and the ever-so-capable man at the helm, Dave van Iersel, interviewed here by Trade Secret’s own, Dave Kerr. Dave-ception.

Dave, how long have you been here?

Near on five years, now.

That’s a long time.  Are you happy?

Yeah, I love the place! Obviously, wintertime can be a little tough, especially with a seaside venue, but the summer period definitely makes up for it.

She cranks, huh?

It’s absolutely packed and pumping, everyone’s always in a good mood.  When people come to the beach, they are automatically happy. They get a drink in their hand and all of a sudden…

Is this Melbourne’s best outlet for a venue?

I’m biased, so I’m gonna say yes, because I walk up here on the worst days when I’ve had no sleep – you know, six hours sleep on a massive weekend – and I walk in here on a Sunday morning at 11AM and the sailboats are out, the sun’s out, and all of a sudden, life’s not so bad.

Right, the Sea Baths. Such an amazing, iconic venue. How did you manage to secure a lease here?

It’s a funny one. This place actually sat empty for about eighteen months, so nobody touched it. The guys that owned the building had a very particular thing they were looking for so, the guys that owned downstairs basically said to them well, here’s what we want to do, and they wouldn’t agree and they just let it sit. And eighteen months, nearly two years, passed with no rent coming in and they revisited it.

Right.

So, obviously with a bit of negotiation, they put an idea forward and they came to an agreement and that’s sort of how this all began. Sort of where I came in. They called me up with a brief and said Hi, we want to do a cocktail bar, and I was like, OK, how big’s your venue, and they’re like we’ve got a licence for 380.  I was like that’s not a cocktail bar, that’s a fully functioning beast!

…and here it is five years later. And it is a beast, yeah?

The big days are very, very big.  The quiet days can be very, very quiet.

So where would you go to for a knock off?

I’ll be honest, if it’s a really hot night, I’ll just grab a glass of rosé and go and sit outside and have a glass of wine…

Did you ever think you would say any of that sentence?

No, I think it was more the fact that I find that wine being a lower alcohol percentage, I still drink at the same rate. But, uh, I tend to find that drinking six gin and tonics versus six glasses of wine have a very different effect. But G&T is still my go-to.

It’s the vice. It’s good, tasty. Beer?

I think my beer tastes have probably evolved the same as Melbourne. I drink beer depending on social circumstances, where I am, what’s available, and it’s kind of evolved into a style. I just don’t drink beer for the sake of drinking beer.

So you never just hit a shit tinny?

Haha, it changes. Some days I do want a beer, some days I want a glass of wine, some days a gin and tonic…

How many oysters do you reckon you sell a week?

It’s up there. Like, we’d do hundreds and hundreds of them. We had a look at some data recently and we go through a couple of hundred of serves of French Fries a day.

Jeez, that’s some chips.

Yeah, it’s a lot of chips.

What is it about the seaside that you just want to eat chips?

I think it’s the starting point, you’re by the ocean, having a drink, sun’s setting, oh hey sneaky chip… why not?

What else moves?

Steak. The DIYs are super popular. So as a joke, this discussion happened a couple of years ago, about how do we keep everyone happy, how do we make dude food? Food that you can shove into the middle of the table and share with friends. The chef at the time just went ‘bugger it’ and basically put a deconstructed kebab on a plate, and then we did a fish taco, and then he did a chicken san choy bow, and they’ve turned out to be the most popular things on the menu.

What’s your favourite Melbourne eatery (that’s not this one)?

I’m just gonna go with what first comes to mind, and that’s Eau De Vie. Mostly because, for me, from all my experience, that is still the epitome of the classic speakeasy bar, which is what a lot of the industry is founded on and focuses on. When people talk about bars and standards, they’re setting one. It’s one of the places where I trust the drinks and staff implicitly.

Do you have, like, a dirty old man boozer that you just wanna spend time by yourself at? Is there a Dave’s Special Place?

The Railway Hotel in Port Melbourne.

That’s what I wanna know.

That’s where we go mostly because they charge 45 bucks for a steak out the back in the main restaurant and you get the same cut for 20 bucks at the bar at the front and have a beer and sit on the street.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in hospitality?  Thinking back to all the people you have ever worked with.  What, is the one thing, like one mantra, one person that stood out?

The mantra for me, I suppose, is never asking somebody to do something you’re not prepared to do yourself.

That is awesome.

So, as a venue manager, I have to make sure I get behind the bar, I run food to the tables, I take bins out, I mop floors, I clean spew up in the bathroom…

Good man, great name. Thanks, Dave.

Captain Baxter

10/18 Jacka Blvd, St Kilda.

(03) 8534 8999

Images by Peter Tarasiuk.

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