Auckland’s Caluzzi Bar and Cabaret is celebrating a double-hit anniversary this month – owner Campbell Orr is toasting the bar’s sixth birthday since he took over and Caluzzi is now in its 17th year!
Campbell has been working at the bar on and off for 13 years and saw it as an excellent challenge when he took over running the place six years ago.
“I don’t know the exact date that the original Caluzzi was opened, but six years running the bar is quite an achievement for me,” says Campbell. “I took it on when I was 29 and I’m very happy that I’ve made it this far!”
When Campbell took over, he gave the place a massive facelift with new floors, ceilings, a new lick of paint and the separation of kitchen and bar. Since then he’s also worked with the K’Road Business Association to get a gorgeous art seat installed outside the bar.
“The original seat was built before Caluzzi even started, so over the years of people sitting on it – and drag queens using it as a stage – it deteriorated,” says Campbell. “When they took it away, we asked that they replace it with a new seat so that people coming up [steep adjoining road] Howe Street had a place to sit and catch their breath… and we may have also asked that they make the seat wide enough to cater to a few dancing queens each weekend!”
Campbell admits the recession hasn’t been kind, but says there are a number of reasons to keep going.
“Every business has its ups and downs now and then but we’ve really aimed to just get on with it and have a good time.
“We have a really amazing group of people who work here. Caluzzi’s always had a culture of being a family and it’s survived and run on this belief. I’ll be honest and say that we’re not making lots of money, but I look after the girls as much as I can and the girls in turn look after me and Caluzzi.
“For them this is a job but it’s more than job, especially for Zoe, Cola, Ling Ling and Elibra – the girls who have been there the longest. Elibra started at Caluzzi before I did!”
Campbell says he’s also aimed to connect with the positive parts of the community and steer clear of the negative. “We’ve sponsored a contestant in the last two Queen of the Whole Universe pageants – Miss Uranus and Miss Canary Islands. That stuff is really fun to do and a really positive experience for all of us.
“We try and distance ourselves from the drama that can sometimes happen,” he says.
Over the years, Caluzzi has also been a direct line between the straight and gay communities. “My business survives on the straight community and it has to,” says Campbell. “The straight community that comes to Caluzzi have often never seen a drag show before and love the colour, fun and music; for them it’s new. We’ll get straight guys come in here and say ‘I wasn’t sure about it but now I’m having the best time’.
Looking forward to the future, Campbell says there is one thing that will stay the same at Caluzzi – the sense of family. “Caluzzi is only as strong as the team who works here; it’s not a place of individuals. Some places work like that but we operate in a way that means everyone brings their individual personality to work and uses their strengths as part of a team. And we have fun.”
| Hannah JV