Opera Bar in the spotlight as battle for the space begins

Up for tender ... The Opera Bar site on the Opera House concourse.
Up for tender ... The Opera Bar site on the Opera House concourse. Photo: Fiona Morris

The battle to operate the Sydney Opera House's popular Opera Bar site officially begins today with the state government calling for expressions of interest.

The site, located on the lower concourse area of the Opera House and a drawcard for tourists and post-work crowds, has been operated by Aria's Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan and pub group Solotel since 2001. Their contract to run the space expires in August but Moran confirmed today he will bid to continue running the space.

Potential operators have until May 8 to pitch their visions for the venue, which should be up and running "before the busy summer season begins later this year", a statement released by the Opera House today said.

Moran, Sullivan and Solotel could face some stiff competition with Justin Hemmes of the Merivale restaurant group also believed to be keen. Hemmes has previously expressed his interest publicly, but Merivale was coy today.

A spokeswoman said the group had not yet seen the tender documents and it was too early to confirm whether it would throw its hat in the ring.

"Until we see [the] tender documents, we won't be able to make a decision," she said.

Moran said this morning he felt he had a good case to continue his long-standing tenure of the Opera Bar site.

"[Opera Bar] has been a great addition to the Opera House," he said. "It's been a great partnership. Thirteen years ago, it was a restaurant that closed at 9pm. It was not a profitable business."

However, he did not rule out a new direction for Opera Bar.


"Who's to say we won't be doing something different. In all my businesses the aim is to improve every year."

The documents relating to the Opera Bar tender were posted on the state government's website at 9am today.

In a media statement, the Opera House Trust called for the operator to "maintain and enhance the venue's status as a destination bar and restaurant with a welcoming atmosphere for all Opera House visitors, seven days a week".

The public tender process for all Opera House hospitality venues has been designed "to elicit innovative approaches" and to "better manage the anticipated high level of interest" the trust's statement said.

The Opera House Trust has still not announced plans for the restaurant site vacated by Guillaume Brahimi in December after Melbourne restaurant entrepreneurs the Van Haandel Group decided not to proceed with a deal to open another Stokehouse restaurant.

Brahimi lost out when the Opera House made clear its preference for a more accessible "bistro-style" restaurant, but Moran said today he did not believe the Opera House was necessarily looking for a new-style operator for its lower concourse bar space.

"I think they have made it very clear it's not the same as what they have done with Bennelong ... With Bennelong it was clear they wanted to go from fine dining to something more accessible," Moran said.