Recently, I had a chat with Liam Hughes and his mother, Leigh, owners of Adelaide’s iconic soda-bar Two-Bit Villains. The nifty little venue opened in 2011, originally as a clothing store. There was always the plan to add a food element to the business: Liam is a qualified chef, so it seemed fitting! Within six months of opening the store, the pair moved into a slightly bigger space in the Adelaide Arcade, allowing them to put in a kitchen – though it was a very small and simple kitchen – where they produced some basic food and their legendary homemade soda.
As their food grew in popularity, Liam and Leigh decided to drop the clothing aspect of their business, allowing them to focus on expanding their menu.
In 2015, the Two-Bit Villains team opened in a new space, giving them more room to accommodate their growing demand. Oh boy, this space is really something! It truly is one of the most beautiful spaces in the Adelaide Arcade – high ceilings, character finishes, and a spectacular balcony overlooking Rundle Mall. Liam and Leigh adore it and describe themselves as very lucky to have it.
What sets Two-Bit Villains apart from the other eateries in Adeiade is their 100% vegetarian and vegan menu. Interestingly, this is not something Two-Bit Villains push as a selling point, but it is a factor that slips under the radar. Liam and Leigh explain that they simply offer up “a restaurant that happens to not serve meat… The whole purpose was always to be a place where someone who is vegetarian or vegan can bring their friends and share a good meal.” These guys can proudly say that they have definitely contributed to the vegan boom in Adelaide, and they are very happy to be a part of it.
Two-Bit Villains are known for their sodas, which Liam proudly claims are his thing – so much his thing that he makes his own with the Two-Bit team.
I’ll let Liam’s words speak for themselves:
“We pretty much always have ten to twelve flavours on hand. Then we do summer specials – pineapple, watermelon and cucumber soda, and cherry over Christmas. It depends on what is seasonably available. The whole point was to make them the way they were originally made, with original fruit – the blueberry made with actual blueberries. There is no colouring!”
Unpacking the vibe of Two-Bit Villains is a rather interesting task. The space is an eclectic mix of furniture and décor stemming from a 50s-60s home bar aesthetic – in one corner you have a horrendously fabulous floral couch, in another a retro radio, and on the wall a bamboo piece of décor finished off with a few life size cocktail umbrellas. I’m definitely all about their vibe: it sweeps you up in its quirkiness, and as you sit there with pals, the vibe allows you to easily forget about the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
Liam is very involved in the Adelaide music scene, or as he describes it “the ‘alternative indie pub stuff” which inspires Two-Bit’s exceptional playlist. The playlists include a lot of Liam’s friends’ music from all over the country, mixed in with his own music preferences. However, as he puts it, there is really no intentional theme: they are just going with the flow and seeing how it works. I have to say this relaxed approach to business must be linked to the ‘chilled’ experience customers have when visiting Two-Bit Villains. Although there may not have been specific intentions with the décor and the music, Liam and Leigh always hoped to provide a safe space for customers, where people can escape the pressures of outside society. Hats off to them: they have created a little oasis up above the hustle and bustle of the Mall.
As an eatery, Two-Bit Villains have a massive following, possibly due to their incredibly groovy merch: everything from keep cups to t-shirts, tote bags to reusable straws. These products mean that the Two-Bit Villains name is no longer limited to Adelaide, with friends interstate or overseas wearing shirts and spreading the “Two-Bit” love. There is even a guy in Finland walking around with his Two-Bit cup.
Finally, I found myself wondering about the origins of iconic name of this business. Turns out the phrase ‘two-bit villains’ doesn’t really exist anymore, as ‘two-bit’ is an old word for 25c. Leigh explained that a Two-Bit Villain is someone who is chasing every dollar because they are so broke, or a poor person trying to do something with themselves. Liam and Leigh see it as a cute name that fits with the old time vibe of the place.
The parting message from Liam and Leigh for you Adelaideians is the team is forever grateful for the support they have received from the Adelaide community and that Two-Bit Villains is here to stay.
Check out all the socials for merch, sneak peaks from their menu, links to their in-house Spotify playlist, or just general info.
A massive thank you to Liam, Leigh and the crew at Two-Bit Villains!
Words by Michelle Wakim