Owners of a new tapas and cocktail bar in Wollongong waiting to open are feeling nervous amidst changing rules of lockdown but say they are "staying strong".
Ilu Ilu is the "COVID-baby" of visual installation artist Abhiruchi Chhikara who found a blank canvas in one of the empty commercial spaces in the recently completed "Signature" high rise on the corner of Regent and Rawson Streets.
The venture, to be run by Ms Chhikara and her husband Jason Chin, was on track to open in early August though the recent tightening of restrictions around construction has put their launch date in limbo.
"This construction pause has really set us back," Ms Chhikara said. "We have not at all finished our fit out."
However, the digital artist is trying to remain optimistic.
Normally Ms Chhikara specialises in using engineering to create installation artworks and in the past 18 months has been commissioned for various works including the Vivid Sydney festival, though the pandemic has made that work more difficult.
She always had a desire to open a hospitality venue and felt the downtime COVID had brought to the arts sector signalled time for a change.
"I was never at the stage that I was ready to give up my other things - like design and engineering work - when we were sitting around in lockdown [in 2020] we were thinking we'd need to 'venture out and try new things and diversify'," Ms Chhikara said.
"I think COVID has also shown you can't have all your eggs in your one basket. We've always been very business-minded, so it's just another cog in the whole machine."
To get her creative fix the artist has tackled the interior design herself including upholstery and other handy work.
"It's royal Indian, inspired by some of the palaces and that kind of decor, but very restrained so it is not in your face Indian," she said. "But the fabric - there's a lot of velvet - and a lot of the little design decisions were Indian inspired," she said.
Ilu Ilu will be licensed to have a maximum of 70 patrons - 40 indoors and 30 outdoors. The tapas and cocktail menu will also be Indian-inspired with lots of spice and exotic tastes like rose, hibiscus, cinnamon and ginger.
Ms Chhikara grew up in India and travelled to Australia for university about 15 years ago, but fell in love with the country and her now husband so decided to stay.
"There's just so much opportunity," she said. "The fact we can just think about opening a bar, and we've had so much support from the community, friends and family."
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