What makes a bar, a good bar? Or rather, why's your favourite bar, your favourite bar? Perhaps it's easy to get to for that after-work drink, maybe they serve all your favourite beers and play all the right tunes. When we think about where we like to grab a drink, it's all these aspects that come to mind, as well as the crowd we'll be drinking with. Stocking a great selection of craft beers is one thing, but how does a place manage to be always buzzing to a certain vibe?
Three weeks into national shutdown and driven by a massive sentiment towards one of our favourite bars in Malta, we reached out to Ian Schranz, owner of Hole in the Wall, to get the story behind one of Malta's best-loved watering holes.
il-lokal: Who's behind Hole in the Wall?
Ian: Hole in the Wall was originally set up by myself and my brother, but the secret ingredient behind its success is its amazing staff.
il-lokal: Hole in the Wall has quite a history. How did you come into running the place?
Ian: It was quite accidental. I saw a Facebook post by the previous owner saying the bar was up for sale and I inquired, just out of goofing around really. Two days later, we bought it.
il-lokal: Have you always thought of yourself as an entrepreneur or is it something that came to you with time?
Ian: Never. Not for one second. I had zero idea about running bars and catering. I'm no entrepreneur, I just like people.
il-lokal: We couldn't talk about your bar without mentioning its famous wall art gallery.
Ian: The hand-drawn portraits, I made myself. We ran out of interior design budget, so we thought it would be a fun idea to just hand-draw some "framed portraits". Then it evolved into people asking us to be on the wall, so we put people and things we know and like on there...like staff members, some customers who've become part of the furniture and some icons we all like.
il-lokal: Live gigs seem to be an integral part of what the place has to offer. Emerging local musicians are also often found working behind the bar. How do these relationships influence your business?
Ian: While travelling around various countries as a musician myself, I was bookmarking cool venues I'd played in. So when it came to re-opening the bar as a music venue, I had quite a good picture in mind. As for the staff, I only employ people I can get to know, and usually, they're from the music or art world. They actually make great employees, since anyone who's been in a band knows what it means to have to be led by passion.
il-lokal: What are some of the biggest challenges of running a business in the hospitality sector?
Ian: The biggest challenge is trying to run a fun night for our customers, while showing respect to our neighbours, and making just enough money to keep the flame alight.
il-lokal: Do you think these challenges are universal or specific to Malta (or even more specifically, to Sliema)?
Ian: Our challenge is that we're located in a very small village core, in this case Sliema, but I think many inner-city bars worldwide have a similar issue.
il-lokal: How would you describe Malta's bar culture?
Ian: Local bar culture is mostly focused on sports and teen pop or classic rock music. That's exactly why why we try to avoid showing sports and play the music we enjoy.
il-lokal: If you had a piece of advice for someone who wants to open a bar, what would it be?
Ian: First, I'd tell them not to open a bar. If they really want to, I'd tell them to keep it super casual, keep expenses as low as possible and to treat customers like people, not like a financial transaction. If your customer can't pay his beer this time, it's OK. Relax, it's just a beer. Let them have it on the house.
il-lokal: Hole in the Wall recently introduced its own beer label. The beer tastes delicious and for regulars (like ourselves), it's just super cool to see it in the bar. What does it mean to you?
Ian: It was a fun thing. We were trying to avoid big brands where possible and realised that we were selling mainly Cisk. So we decided to have a beer produced for us to make that most frequent sale more personal.
One book every aspiring entrepreneur should read?
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell - two opposite philosophies that meet in the middle.
Which are your 3 favourite independent businesses in Malta and why?
I know you've asked for 3, but I can't not add Tuffcider, Malta’s only cider :)
Panda Design - Taking Malta to new design heights.
Why is it important to support local businesses?
We always work with small suppliers from local businesses, because it's so much nicer to speak to a person who's in love with their product, rather than a salesman forced to do a job.
Hole in the Wall
1922 / 2017
31 High Street, Sliema
Edited by Manuela Zammit.