Introducing Warehouse 25, a community-focused venue and gin distillery opening up Brisbane’s Inner West
If you’ve been to or live in Brisbane, chances are the inner city industrial suburb of Milton doesn’t exactly come to mind when thinking of a night out. Sure, it’s got the XXXX Brewery and Suncorp Stadium, but that’s just about it. However, if you’ve ever indulged in the city’s tightknit electronic and dance scene, the address of 25 Finchley Street, Milton might be a bit more familiar.
Home to underground warehouse parties over the last few years, hosting everyone from local legends to international acts like BEN UFO, this once-empty warehouse has been given a new life in 2020. Helmed by Cameron Lee, he and his carefully selected team of trusted family and friends have been hard at work in recent months turning the space into a fully fledged bar, distillery and venue. Now called Warehous 25, Lee along with his father and local legends Kim Stevenson and Lucas Reid have brought his vision of a legitimate, bonafide and alternative space in Brisbane’s inner west to life.
Cam Lee is no stranger to Brisbane’s scenes, both underground and by the books. A promoter, label head, one half of Penelope Two-Five, solo producer as Romance, weapon DJ in his own right and more, Lee‘s passion for electronic and dance is only rivaled by his passion for adding to the growing and evolving cultural fabric of Brisbane. While many creatives seek outlets for their passions beyond Brisbane, Lee believes in staying and adding to the city, and has seen first hand what commitment and investment can mean for a burgeoning scene with untapped potential. From sold out club nights to inner city warehouse raves, boutique festivals just a few hours drive away and pop up events in parks, on boats and more, this community has continued to thrive and develop over the years, and with each and every addition to the evolving scene, more and more people become motivated and confident to add their own piece to the puzzle. It’s exactly this that Lee not only experienced personally, having first been inspired to create Warehouse 25 from his own experiences at parties and in spaces knowing there was so much more that could be done, and it’s also this he hopes to instill in others.
With a thoroughly community-focused approach, Lee and the Warehouse 25 team have not only firstly launched an impressive and promising creative space in the midst of a pandemic and a recession, a time proven to be extremely difficult for the arts worldwide, they’ve also delivered a tangible, physical addition and proof that not only is the Brisbane music and arts scene worth investing in, it’s possible when done properly. From the in-house gin and vodka distillery which will be sold under the company Calm Spirits Co, to the bottle shop, full kitchen, impressive bar and multiple multi-purpose spaces across its three levels, Warehouse 25 is for everyone — for families going for lunch to those who frequented it before its facelift; for those looking for an alternative to the chaos of Fortitude Valley and for those who want to be apart of the growing community. As it prepares to open its doors November 7th, the opening of Warehouse 25 marks a new era for Brisbane, and one we cannot wait to watch unfold. Here, we chat to Cam about how the idea first formed, what it means for the cultural fabric of Brisbane and what he hopes his city might get from it. Head HERE for more information.
Can you tell me where the idea kind of came from? How did it start?
It definitely stems from the old warehouse parties where I kind of saw promoters and bookers booking my favorite artists and it being a very subpar experience. So I just thought you know, given the opportunity I was able to actually create a space to properly or how I thought like would respectfully platform these artists that I would really enjoy. I guess it’s just matured a bit more over time where instead of it just being kind of rave-focused, it’s going to incorporate a wide accessibility of people wanting to come, like families coming for lunch. And to be a safe space that’s not kind of in the chaos and a bit more removed. Especially on the west side here, there’s nothing like this I’d say. I kind of saw a gap in the market of location and opportunity where we can make this a live music venue and make it quite music and arts oriented, but outside of everything else. In my head, I feel like it’s gonna open up the west side a lot where there’s so many uni students are Toowong and Taringa, Indooroopilly, Saint Lucia, and then Paddington is just right up the hill there. Even on the other side like Ashgrove, Bardon, The Gap. The biggest thing or the biggest complaint or downfall we have I suppose is the lack of foot traffic, but anyone on this side, essentially if they want to go anywhere that, they have to come past it. I think it all just kind of arose from the opportunity and the niche that we could kind of target over here.
This is obviously more than just a space. You’ve got the full kitchen, you’ve got the distillery. Why did you want to go all in with this and what do you hope it brings not only to this area but to Brisbane as well?
Back to the old warehouse days, it was just unsustainable. It was unsustainable in the fact that people were just covering costs essentially. The setup, you just can’t maintain what that was, whereas this now can be quite sustainable because it’s all as legal as it possibly can be. We’ve got all our licenses like everything is by the book this time whereas that was it was technically by the book but… We definitely had to finagle some words around. Even for Brisbane as a whole, a big inspiration for me was so many of my creative friends feel like they hit a ceiling in Brisbane. They hit a ceiling and they’re like, “There’s nothing else I can do here!” so they go look for greener pastures in Melbourne or Berlin or London. Obviously I’m sure there’s a lot more opportunities there to explore especially creatives want to explore. But in my head, if no one stays around and invests in Brisbane, then that’s going to be the case forever. It’s just going to be “Oh, there’s nothing for me here so I’ve got to go and search for something else.” That’s totally fine but I in my experience a lot of those people hit a ceiling there as well and they’re like, “Actually what am I doing here?” Because you kind of become a big fish in a small pond, and then a small fish in a big pond. I’m really hoping that this place and its ideas can inspire people to invest and commit to helping a community and culture grow in Brisbane because I think there’s a lot of untapped potential, the potential is right there but everyone bails.
It lacks the infrastructure. We’ve seen what can happen when significant investment is implemented. Do you think that a legitimate establishment like this would help propagate culture?
Definitely because, I keep referring back to warehouse wise because that’s I guess that’s my gauge but, for people to have come here -and it was a definitely a few thousand people that came over the two years- you definitely needed to have liked the music or the environment, whereas we can cater to a greater Brisbane with with the environment and the events that we can put on. The aim is to really cast a wide net to greater Brisbane. Get them here and expose them to things that they may not have been exposed to in terms of music and arts and we can still provide that well-polished product of you know, we have great cocktails that everyone can get around, we have great food that everyone is gonna get around as well. It’s about bringing people in and convincing them that this is something that they want to be a part of as well if they haven’t necessarily been exposed to it.
Talking about the warehouse years, you’ve been coming to parties and throwing parties here for two years. Now you own the space and it is your business, do you feel any extra pressure in regards to that given the history of the what this venue means to a lot of people?
There is definitely pressure but my whole attitude towards it is, and it’s a huge risk to kind of follow it through, but my attitude is kind of like: if it’s if it’s not me then who, and also if not now then when? So it feels right. I mean, COVID really changed the plans and put a lot more pressure on me I suppose to adapt. But yeah, it kind of feels like it has to be done even with the risk at hand.
COVID obviously needs to be mentioned. Starting a business during the middle of a pandemic and in a recession is probably a big risk to be taking but you obviously have some belief that it can return?
Definitely! I think a lot of people have felt quite repressed obviously due to quarantine and no real external outlets. I suppose we’ve become quite internalised. I think a lot of people are absolutely fangin’ for a space or for something to arise. Personally I think the Valley is bleeding to be honest. I think it’s a huge clash of cultures and the main focus it seems is to get as lit as possible, whereas I still think we can have that component of people feeling comfortable and having a few drinks and kind of getting to that level, but still investing in the space. You mentioned the recession, we’ve definitely incorporated the prices of our drinks to be accessible for those who have had their hours absolutely cut or they just lost their jobs in general. We don’t want people to feel left out by having our prices high and trying to maximise our profitability, you know. It’s more about having an accessible space where people can come and have a good time. It’s also about creating employment opportunities as well during during this whole thing. I know a lot of my mates have lost their jobs or have skeleton hours essentially. It’s definitely a community-based project that I think a lot of people will feel like they’ll want to invest in as well.
Almost like a cultural buy-in in a way, like people will feel that connection. Looking at the team, you’re in business with your dad and also you have Kim Stevenson and Lucas Reid involved as well. Can you tell me about the importance of the people that you have around you when you’re creating this project?
Kim was the first person I asked. There was definitely a time where I didn’t want to get any friends involved because I just know how quickly relationships can sour. As soon as money is involved or an idea, I just know the potential for it to sour. But the closer I got to opening, the more I realised I couldn’t trust essentially a random off Seek.com who’s just working for a paycheck with a vision and kind of a baby. That would put a lot of stress on me. Someone like Kim and Lucas I think both inherently have the ideologies and attitude that I want this place to kind of exude. You know, that that acceptance, just the positive nature that this kind of industry can have and how supportive it actually can be. It’s very important, it’s really taking it’s taking a lot of pressure off me having those people I can trust in place. Especially those two in leadership positions, it makes my job a lot easier and I can focus on continually building it as well.
Can you tell me about the space downstairs? You mentioned that you wanted to be a place where maybe there’s a bit less pressure than perhaps a DIY space might bring or a bigger stage where people are kind of having to set up on the fly. That also made me think maybe there’s a gap in the market in terms of bands or acts looking to be able to get those first kind of gigs before they’re able to play the more established venues that are in the valley. Is that kind of what you’re looking to foster here as well?
Yeah definitely. Essentially if we can platform as many artists, both visual and auditory, the better! Because I really want this to be a place of growth as a business and artistically as well. Just being able to offer that smaller space and more intimate space where I know when someone is playing for their first time or having their first showing, it will be mostly their friends coming to show support. Hopefully like this place will be able to do the marketing for them as well and bring in those few people who are interested. Just to give just a good people that kind of more intimate platform where they can refine what they’re doing and be able to move on to bigger stages and bigger projects is definitely a focus of this space as well.
So you had a soft launch over the weekend. What was the reception like? Can you tell me about you know the moment when you actually did open it up to friends and family?
It was really good! I don’t think there were any expectations of our family and friends coming into here. I don’t think they really knew what the cocktails and the drinks were gonna be like, so I think that either the lower to no expectation, really made our product seem awesome [laughs]. Everyone was absolutely loving the pizza, loving the cocktails, loved the fit out, the staff. It was mostly friends with everyone who came as well, it was quite community driven.
You’re someone that’s been involved in Brisbane community and culture in so many different ways. What is your hope for what this can bring to Brisbane culture and community?
I would really love it to be a place that people are proud of and a reflection of Brisbane. Let’s say some people’s friends come from overseas or from Melbourne or from anywhere, the first place they want to take them is here and be like “You got to check out this space.” Because it does kind of reflect the identity that Brisbane can have, especially within certain subcultures and and whatnot. But yeah kind of always pushing, pushing forward and giving arts and music a certain edge as well. Not just booking the same guy to play ‘Wonderwall’ every Sunday arvo. Being able to push those more experimental artists and giving them the confidence and giving the community confidence to pursue things like this.
Warehouse 25 is open November 7th. More information here.
Interview by Emma Jones
Images via Warehouse 25
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