Another new bar in Mair Street is pointing to a bright future for the Armstrong Street North precinct, as more hospitality venues open and are planned in advance of the massive GovHub project's completion.
The Comfort of Strangers, housed in a bluestone building formerly home to a whitegoods repair shop, bills itself as a wine bar, but according to owner Torquil Neilson, the real focus is simply "good booze".
The characterful interior has been designed and built by Ballarat businesses, with exposed bluestone and bricks, as well as spotted gum benches, creating a mix of textures.
"Every bar's got to have booths," Mr Neilson said.
"I'm really pleased that in a space this small, we managed to get a couple of booths in, and I love the curved bar and the tiles.
"My wife and I were quite clear on what we wanted to achieve with this venue, the limited space lends itself to that idea, so we stuck to our guns."
He said he'd previously worked in hospitality for 15 years, and had stints at Young Henrys and Red Duck breweries, but is looking forward to being his own boss.
With the GovHub project scheduled for completion by the end of the year, and for opening soon after, he's keen to set up shop in advance of the potential rush of new customers.
"I kind of thought, for the venue I was thinking of, it's a pretty good target market over the road, I knew that was coming," he said.
"Having the other venues just helps - I've met some of the guys, they've come in, and obviously I've been to their venues.
"They've been hugely supportive, and I'd do the same for them, it's a nice little community."
A brewery understood to be associated with Hop Temple is currently under construction on Mair Street, while several new restaurants have opened on the Armstrong Street North strip in the past 18 months.
Mr Neilson said there was a good opportunity for hospitality businesses in Ballarat.
"My wife and I had always talked about something like this over the years, but somewhere like Sydney I wouldn't even attempt it," he said.
"Here, it was like, we can probably do it, things are much more affordable here."
The wine list, focusing on European wines with a cameo from locals Latta Vino, but spirit-wise, Mr Neilson is enthusiastic about spreading the good word of mezcal.
"That's the hidden gem on the shelf," he said.
"You couldn't really get it for a long time, premium mezcal in a lot of ways is quite similar to damn fine single malt whiskeys."
The name comes from an Ian McEwen novel, though there's a coincidental Ballarat connection.
"I Googled it once, 'The Comfort of Strangers Ballarat' - and someone actually did a thesis on hospitality in the goldfields, they called their thesis The Comfort of Strangers," he explained.
"This is long before we were here, I didn't come up with the name, my wife did, and while I might have come across that bit of information because I'm quite interested in the Eureka Stockade and Australian history, but my wife would not have been Googling at 3am,
"So it's just a coincidence, it's great, full respect to the author of said thesis."
The bar is open from Thursday to Sunday.
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