In light of the establishment's tenth birthday this year, we visited Proof to chat about the evolution of one of the city’s first small bars, and why the magnetic allure of this venue is only getting stronger.

Words:  Lara Pacillo // Photos: Dylan Starczak

In 2015, Proof Bar removed toasties from the menu over a two-week period; death threats were among the responses from the public. It’s this kind of cult-like following that the bar has developed since its inception ten years ago.

Proof might be easy to miss down an inconspicuous laneway off Waymouth Street, but on the contrary, it draws in a consistent diverse crowd from 18-year-olds to office workers to retirees. They slot into the cosy forest green booths upstairs, crowd the open-air terrace (not too common in Adelaide’s bar scene), and get comfortable on the stools downstairs befriending the bartenders.

We’re currently doing the latter, chatting with owners Joseph Wilkinson and Shane Ettridge, along with bartenders and part-time managers Cindy Gobell and Ella Glover, about the evolution of Proof. This year marks a decade of existence for Proof, which was the first venue in Adelaide to secure a small bar liquor license following the change in legislation pre-empted by Proof’s peers, Udaberri and Clever Little Tailor.

(L-R) Proof owners Joseph Wilkinson and Shane Ettridge, with bartenders and part-time managers Ella Glover and Cindy Gobell

As good friends and past co-workers, Joe and Shane opened Proof together in August 2013. How it was is almost unrecognisable to the Proof many know today, Joe explains.

“We had a tagline which was based on our original vision: ‘a sophisticated drinking house’.

“We still don’t really know what that was. We never found it,” he laughs.

“I mean, early days, you could order four different oysters. We had a full-time chef. We were in waistcoats and ties. All the girls were basically in frocks.”

Gradually, however, Joe and Shane pared back. Realising the sophisticated vibe wasn’t really what the people of Adelaide wanted, the duo made changes to the venue getting rid of the chef, adopting a more casual attire, and altering Proof more to its current state.

“We’ve got the essence of a front bar, but in a cocktail wine bar setting,” Joe says.

Proof offers a rotating drinks menu which is reprinted every week and acts as a “slow rolling evolution”; there’s beer, wine, and spirits from around the world with a strong focus on quality, as well as six signature cocktails where the Pineapple Puppy (gin, vermouth, pineapple, and ginger) is a staple.

The toasties are one of the few things from day one that remain. The truffled mushroom ragu toastie with lentils and gruyere always makes the list, while two other specials shift over time. Visitors are also welcome to order pizza from Melt next door, making it easy to head into Proof early and stay for the night.

What keeps people coming back to Proof goes deeper than the menu, however. There’s a culture amongst the team where self-expression is encouraged, and this translates into the experience of visiting the bar, where the vibrant personality and character are a direct reflection of the people within.

“I used to come here by myself before I started working here,” Cindy says, having now worked at Proof along with Ella for three years. “I had never felt so comfortable in a venue to just sit at the bar and chat with the bartender.”

“It’s not just about making the sale and getting people to like your drinks, it’s actually about building a culture and a community in here.”

Cindy and Ella took up their roles at the age of 19. They’re an example of team members hired for their personality rather than experience where, through their role, they’ve been mentored and upskilled.

Passions and interests are nurtured in this setting, Ella says, where everyone knows how to do every role from kitchen work to cocktails.

“I think in Proof especially, but in most small bars, it’s like a tiny microbiome. You don’t get to feel that in a lot of larger places.”

In August this year, Proof celebrated its tenth birthday party which resulted in the largest turnout ever and a truly momentous event for the team. “Bodies, shoulders, arms, limbs everywhere,” Cindy describes the night; the support was just a result of how strong the Proof community has grown to be.

Backing this up, Proof will be hosting its fourth ever ‘Chardy Party‘ on Sunday October 8 with Chardonnay by the glass, DJs on the deck including Cindy, and a serious celebration of white wine.

As the makers behind the iconic establishment, we ask Joe and Shane for words of advice for those considering opening their own venue in the hospitality industry. Joe emphasises the importance of being highly responsive: “I don’t think it matters how well researched you are or how much work you put in beforehand, you don’t quite know what’s going to stick and what isn’t, so you’ve got to be flexible.”

Shane adds that sticking true to your strengths is imperative. “If you deviate too far from what comes naturally to you, I think you might get found out; an authentic experience from the consumers point of view will come back to what’s authentic to you.”

Cindy says Proof fosters a unique feeling, one of being heard and welcomed that really is unparalleled. “There’s a culture in here where people just feel like they’re part of something. It doesn’t matter what sort of person you are, or what your views are on things; you just feel that sense of community when you’re coming here to stick around, enjoy the music, enjoy the vibes, and connect with others.”

What the next ten years hold for Proof is unknown – mostly the team let things happen and ride that wave. One thing is for certain however: the toasties aren’t going anywhere.

Proof Chardy Party: Sunday October 8 // 9A Anster Street, Adelaide 5000

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