House of FoolsI was a partner in a pub called The House of Fools which was an ‘irreverent’ watering hole in Footscray from 1996 to 2000. It developed into a Music Venue, not by design but more through the motley crew of regulars and blow ins who gravitated to our doors from all corners of Melbourne. Attracted by the pub’s irreverence and our Unconventional Management Style. Our audience was top heavy with musicians, sensitive souls with artistic sensibilities and a smattering of piss heads with spunk for good measure.… And they influenced the direction the pub took. The Fools who started this business were David Kompes, nicknamed The President on account of his role as the president of The Seddon Football Club when we took over the pub. John Cumming, whose life long devotion -love affair with Footscray sees him as the current Mayor of Maribyrnong and me.We, the three partners, had no hospitality industry experience prior to having taken over the pub. I was an estate agent, David was a Telstra Accounts Executive and John was a disability carer with political ambitions. When one long term Footscray resident got wind of our professional backgrounds and our plans to turn The Belgravia Hotel into an Alternative Pub he burst out laughing and said, “Those guys are Fools.”We had our new trading name and we were ready to unleash ourselves into the Hospitality Industry !Our most important task prior to opening for business was ‘ persuading’ the area’s usual suspects that we weren’t going to be the sort of pub where they’d feel comfortable. So we had to spread the word to the life blood of most of Footscray’s Pubs… Maoris and Pacific Islanders, Drug Dealers and White Trash that our place wasn’t going to be ‘up their alley’. The previous publican was a Tongan and it had been the local watering hole for the Pacific Islanders in the area. I’d seen ‘Once Were Warriors’ and I instinctively knew we had to ‘persuade’ them that our place wasn’t going to be for them. Fatefully, one day while I was painting the outside of the building a young Tongan guy approached me. “Hey bro, you got any security job here ?” “I don’t know if you want a job here … it’s going to be a gay pub .” I lied.“What you fuckin talk about bro .” [ Bingo, destiny had provided The Messenger ]We gave the pub a makeover, painted over the VB logo bottle green facade with a streaky weathered Tuscan Baby Shit Hue…..and told the Carlton and United Breweries- CUB rep to remove all the illuminated VB signs erected on the outside of the pub. I remember her looking at me incredulously saying, “What on earth do you think you’re doing here. This is a pub in Footscray. You haven’t forgotten that, have you ?” In our enthusiasm we had, we’d successfully ostracized most social groups who patronized pubs in Footscray. Now we had to find our audience, a completely new customer base. The Tongan bouncer had effectively spread the word so the Islanders stayed away but we still needed drinkers…and while we hadn’t established a clear business plan of what we wanted to be [ we became a Music Venue organically ]. We knew we didn’t want to run a typical pub with a public bar stacked with lost blokes sipping pots watching the footy on a TV screen. Those slash and burn tactics worked and the usual suspects stayed away. However my ‘ little white lie’ had reached Footscray’s embryo gay community and the area’s closet gays were quick to discover the pub. Albeit confused by our management style and initial direction, they formed an important core of our first regulars. While we weren’t a gay venue, we had created an environment where they felt safe and welcome.And for Footscray in 1996, that was Risqué. As one appreciative punter told us,“You guys are at the vanguard.” We may have been at the vanguard, but in those initial months of early trading we didn’t have a clue where the vanguard was taking us…and from here our first attempts at marketing produced a flyer headed,‘House of Fools…. We Haven’t Got a Clue !’ Fabrizio Marsanifmarsani@yahoo.com.auI’ll be writing about various episodes from this period over the coming months. If anyone cares to jot my memory with one of their House of Fools moments feel free to contact me.
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