Hospitality

How this Melbourne café managed global attention when band Bon Iver told fans to show up at its doors

Dominic Powell /

Bon Iver

Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon at the Grammy Awards in 2012. Source: EPA/Paul Buck

A Fitzroy café has turned unexpected global attention into a business opportunity, as keen fans flocked to the eatery after a tip-off by band Bon Iver.

Sir Charles café/restaurant received an influx of calls after social media posts from Bon Iver referenced the café’s location and a time, prompting rampant speculation from fans.

The post was one of many made by the indie electronic band promoting its latest album, 22, A Million.

A photo posted by Bon Iver (@boniver) on

Fans took to social media to debate what could be happening at the location, with some even suspecting a live performance or appearance by the band’s front man, Justin Vernon.

The first port of call for many was to contact the business at the address, which café manager Joe South told SmartCompany was “pretty confusing”.

“I was told by people on social media on the way to work, and once we opened up the calls started rolling in,” South says.

“It was a bit overwhelming, I had no real information to give anyone.”

The cafe’s address was given in the band’s post to point fans to a mural painted in an alleyway next to the business, which depicted part of the album art for the new LP.

South said he was aware of the mural being painted, but was not aware it was related to the band.

“We saw the guy painting it about a month ago, and we questioned him then but he couldn’t tell us much,” South says.

“The “Bon Iver” title must have been painted on just a few days ago, I think they were trying to build it up in stages.”

The time referenced in the post was 6:30pm, later than the café usually opens. Realising the potential for business, South and his team made some snap decisions.

“We don’t usually open up late, but we saw it as a bit of an opportunity,” South says.

“We kept the doors open and served beers and wine at special prices, and we also did some finger food and nibbles. In the end it was quite an accumulation of people.”

Sir Charles stayed open during the event, even choosing to promote the modified trading hours on its Instagram page. South chatted to the organiser, who told him she was happy the fan event could create business for the local café.

“It was a really great experience for us in the end, I couldn’t have been happier,” South says.

Despite that, South still has reservations about the music itself.

“Admittedly I’m not the biggest Bon Iver fan. My girlfriend and a number of girls at work are, so they were pretty excited,” he says.

For those who turned up expecting an impromptu performance, the real event was a lot less grand.

“In the end it was a whole bunch of people, sitting in a private alleyway listening to a cassette player. It was pretty surreal.”

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the former features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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