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Meet Mike Enright, owner of The Barber Shop

The Barber Shop in Sydney is one of my favourites. It’s been open for just a year and has already made an impact, being both shortlisted for Best New International Cocktail Bar at the world renowned Tales of the Cocktail 2014 and winning Bar Operator of the Year at the 2014 Australian Bartender Magazine Awards.

It was a pleasure to meet Mike Enright, owner of The Barber Shop to chat about his career, how the idea for The Barber Shop came about and most importantly, gin.

How long have you been working in the bar industry?

25, 26 years, although I took two years off when I when I went to Uni.

What do you like about it?

It’s anti-social but also very social! I meet so many people, that’s the best part.
When I was a lot younger living in London, it felt like I was living a very different life to the normal average person working 9-5. As I got older I wanted to be at home at 5 on a Friday evening like normal people, but I decided to stay in bar management because I enjoy meeting people.

So what do you hate about it? The anti-social hours?

As you get older it’s pretty taxing on your body. However, as a bar owner it never stops it’s 24/7 52 weeks of the year, but I like the flexibility. I don’t have to be at my desk at 9 am.

So why The Barber Shop? Where did that concept come from?

Originally when I left school I was a hairdresser. I was really interested in the barbering side back in the mid-eighties when there was some really cool old school barbering schools. I was a bit too young to move down to London where they were so; I got involved in pubs, as a second job.

When I was thinking about opening a bar, I saw an opportunity to combine men’s grooming and good drinking, something for the modern gent. There are many similarities between the craft and skill of a bartender creating a cocktail and the art of a haircut.

Obviously, I fell in love with The Barber Shop because of the great range of gin, but you also have a wonderful collection of whisky. So which are you? Gin or whisky?

Gin.

As I’ve got older my appreciation for whisky has grown but I find gin more because of its history. Going to a distillery and smelling the gin in the still is an incredible experience. Gin is an awesome spirit to play and make cocktails with. It also has so much history for me as my mum and my first landlady used to drink it. To me it’s the quintessential English spirit.

I’d never seen gin and juice on tap before I came to The Barber Shop

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We installed the gin tap to promote gin in a different way. The tap attracts people’s attention and gets them to try something they may not have experienced before.

What’s your favourite gin?

A tough one. I like Plymouth because it’s a great, full-bodied gin. I like Fords, which I think is exceptional. I used to work for Tanqueray when they launched No. Ten in Australia, so that was a passion of mine for a while. It’s hard to pin point just one. There are so many and they each have their own characters.

Which gin cocktail are you asked for the most?

We sell a few more martinis than most other bars I’ve been to. One of our signature cocktails, The Fleet Street (chartreuse, angostura bitters, gin and pineapple juice) is very popular as it’s so drinkable. Gimlets are popular too.

What is your favourite gin cocktail?

Easy. A Gimlet. In my opinion, the less you mess with a drink the better it is. I like producing a drink that is quick, fresh, and cold. The Gimlet hits the spot.

If a customer comes in and has never tried gin before what would you serve them?

I’d offer them one of our signature drinks like the Fleet Street cocktail, because it’s so approachable. Generally I like to get some more details. I might ask them what they usually drink, if they like citrus? Or fruity cocktails? Do they prefer something neat and boozy or long and tall? I take their answers and often make something off the bat.

Your Vintage gins are a fantastic point of difference! Do you sell much?

Gin connoisseurs come in to try two different gins and two different tonics for comparison and then finish off with a taster of one of the vintage gins. So, yes, we do sell quite a bit.
I never expected to make money from them; I just wanted to have them for people to try. I’d love to cellar them but they are too expensive so I’ll probably expand the collection instead.

Off duty where do you like to drink?

The Lord Dudley (Sydney) , The Rook (Sydney), which has a good gin selection and Duke’s Bar (London).

If you could work anywhere else, where would you work?

I’d love to do a stint somewhere like The Connaught, because I’ve never done it. Anywhere old school: The American Bar at the Savoy, or The Artesian,  I have a massive appreciation for the old classics and techniques.

You can follow The Barber Shop on Facebook or visit their website.

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Project Botanicals Pop-Up Gin Bar

Matching wine and food, has been part of the restaurant scene for as long as anyone can remember. Lately, a number of bars and restaurants have offered cocktail degustations where food is matched to cocktails, but as far as I know, Project Botanicals Pop-Up Gin Bar at 64 Sutton Street, North Melbourne is the first where food has been specifically matched to gin.

Project Botanicals is a collaboration between renowned chef and Masterchef judge Gary Mehigan and Bombay Sapphire Gin. Sean Forsyth, Bombay Sapphire’s Brand Ambassador for Australia has selected 10 gin cocktails with Gary creating matching tapas style dishes, each will pay tribute to one of the botanicals in Bombay Sapphire. In their words, they are pioneering the art of “Ginstronomy”

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A selection of ‘Project Botanicals’ dishes.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the cocktails matched the food: Oysters, Blue Swimmer Crab Toasts, Tartine of Field Mushroom and Crunchy Chicken Slider were just some of the plates we sampled. Some of the sweeter cocktails weren’t to my taste, but this didn’t detract from the concept at all.

Favourite drinks for me were the Angelica Negroni and the Orris Aviation.

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Angelica Negroni
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Orris Aviation with dessert ; Strawberries and Cream, Candied Violets with Lemon Cream & Warm Breton Crumble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gary’s excitement for the project was clearly visible as he shared how the warehouse space will be transformed ~ “bursting with colour and texture and brought to life with guest DJs, live botanicals walls and installations and special effect lighting”.

The Project Botanicals Pop-Up Gin Bar will open for 3 weeks between 19th November through until the 6th December (sittings from 6pm-1am Wednesday-Saturday evenings).  Tickets must be purchased in advance and at $35 (plus booking fee) per person for 2 cocktails and 2 matched dishes, represent great value.

I was a guest of Gary Mehigan and Bombay Sapphire Australia for the media launch of Project Botanicals Pop-Up Gin Bar, no payment was received for this post.
The Barbershop Sydney

The Barber Shop, Sydney

Located in the Sydney CBD, you might just pass The Barber Shop mistakenly thinking that it was…well… a barber shop.

Look closely however, and you might spot a cocktail or a beer in front of the gentlemen being groomed.

Walk through the barber shop itself and a green door above three steps opens out in a dimly lit bar. You have arrived.

I knew immediately that this was the place for me when I saw 42 gins (this has since expanded to almost 200) on the bar menu. Then I spied GIN ON TAP. Yes, Plymouth Gin & Juice, on tap. (Snoop Dogg would be very happy here.)

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As I perused the impressive menu, including vintage gins from the 60s and 70s, I was introduced to Mikey, the owner and brains behind the concept.

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Mikey kindly let me sample a vintage 70’s Plymouth gin and compare it with its modern counterpart. Interestingly the vintage gin had more spice and complexity. Difficult to know whether that was down to age, or the botanicals, but it was delicious.

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In the end I ordered a dirty martini with Botanist gin.

Glancing around the bar I spotted a woman on her own with a book enjoying a Negroni, several couples unwinding for the weekend, office colleagues about to start a big night and a glamorous octogenarian ordering Glenmorangie on ice while her daughter sipped a gin and tonic. It was great to see such a diverse range of people and the staff coped admirably with the volume of customers.

We had intended to move on after one drink, but the vibe and the beautifully crafted cocktails kept us there for the rest of the evening.

This bar is one of ‘happy places’ and since my first visit, I always try to pop in when I’m in Sydney. Others seem to agree as The Barber Shop was named as one of the Top 10 Best New International Bars in the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards 2014 and was voted Gin Bar of the Year at the 2016 Australian Bartender Magazine Bar Awards.

You can follow The Barber Shop on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.

Hayden Lambert ~ Bar Americano

Bar Americano is like all the best things in Melbourne, secretively tucked away from the main attractions.

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The tiny room is fitted out beautifully, with varnished wooden shelves and pale tiled walls. Coffee is served through the hatch during the day with aperitifs and night caps available as the day progresses.

Bar Americano is so small any photographs taken could infringe customers privacy,  so no photos. (The ones you see here are borrowed from their Facebook page). There are other irregularities a seasoned bar fly might not be used to…

Firstly, there are no seats. Standing room only. Secondly, there are no alcohol brands visible. Everything is decanted into beautiful glass bottles on the back shelf of the bar. (I did ask which gin they were using -Tanqueray). Lastly, the drinks menu is recreated from original cocktail books from bygone eras. They strive to “serve classic cocktails in their purest form”. The Negroni I was served certainly lived up to that statement and I could see why it was a finalist in the 2013 Australian Bar of the Year.

Hayden and I only managed a quick chat while he made my Negroni, but luckily for me he agreed to answer my questions as part of Meet the Bartender.

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Name: Hayden Scott Lambert

Where do you work? I’m currently the head bartender of the tiny yet inspirational Bar Americano.

How long have you been mixing cocktails? I have been making cocktails for about ten years. I have been making good cocktails for about 8 of those years!

Who/what inspires you?  My wife and my son!

What’s your favourite gin and why? I have always a big fan of Martin Millers Westbourne strength. But I’m currently working with Tanqueray and it’s wonderfully versatile.

What gin cocktail are you asked for most? Negronis, Aviations and Sensations

Your favourite gin cocktail and why?  I’m in love with Negronis, its just a drink that I love making. It’s very sophisticated, seductive and one just isn’t enough.

A customer has never tried gin before, what gin-based drink would you recommend? I think a well made gin sour like the Aviation is a great introduction. It also allows for them to gain their confidence so I can take them on a gin-tastic journey.

Best thing about your job? The people, the atmosphere & the intimacy of the Bar Americano.

Off-duty, what’s your favourite place to drink? I don’t get out much but when I have I have enjoyed great drinks and great service at The Everleigh. I love going to the Lui Bar and watching the world pass by at Chuckle Park.

If you could work at any other bar, which one would it be? I don’t think I could work in another bar except my own.

Bar Americano, 20 Presgrave Place, Melbourne. Open Mon-Sun 8.30-1.30am

(Bar Americano was created by Matthew Bax (from the trink tank group).

Please note I visited Bar Americano as a paying customer and was not paid for this review.

Eau De Vie Melbourne

Eau De Vie Melbourne is described as a prohibition-style speak-easy and the lack of signage as to its whereabouts certainly add to its mystique.

We almost gave up until a door opened, a glamorous looking couple exited and the sounds of happy people wafted on to the alleyway.

As we stepped into the dimly lit, jazz-filled, bar, abuzz with lively conversation, I immediately felt this was somewhere special.

We’d booked a booth (of which there is one large and two small) as it was our anniversary. There is also a main bar area with masses of seating as well as a long table towards the back for large parties to dine (and where their cocktail degustations take place).

Naturally, I’d already enquired as to the gins available and wasn’t disappointed (24 and counting), but there is also a separate whisky room if that is more your thing, plus you can buy a bottle of your favourite tipple and keep it on the premises in your own special cabinet to which you are given your own key. Fancy!

I started with a (slightly) dirty martini. One of the most dazzling serving experiences ever. Chilled to perfection with liquid nitrogen (dry ice) before me, it was accompanied by olives resting on a glass of ice.

Spectacular to look at (my photo certainly doesn’t do it justice) and superb to drink.

As I looked around the bar I could see lots of more smoke and flames as various cocktails were served. The sense of theatre was fabulous.

(Mr GQ sampled a Martin Miller’s Gin & Tonic before working his way through some of the craft beers. Verdict: Excellent.)

Next up I sampled a Scurvy Sailor. Weeks on, and the memory of that cocktail has stayed with me, so much so I devoted this post to it.

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Citrussy, ginny, and salty is the only way to describe the Scurvy Sailor. A bit like a gin margarita? Truly scrumptious.

We had a beautiful night. The service and the food (oysters, a cheese board, some antipasti and a shared dessert) was excellent and for a special occasion not too extravagant. Cocktails are priced between $14-22.

Eau De Vie, 1 Malthouse Lane, Melbourne. Follow them on Facebook or twitter.

Note: This was a personally funded visit to Eau de Vie to celebrate our anniversary. I was not paid for this review.

The Everleigh, Melbourne

There is something almost illicit about The Everleigh.

Tucked away, a flight of stairs above an American Diner, you’d miss it if you weren’t seeking it out.

The first thing I noticed was the low lighting. This isn’t a brash hip cocktail bar, but a unique experience where impeccably dressed waiting staff enquire to your tastes and mix you a cocktail accordingly. Table service means you can relax and enjoy the company while staff come and go with your drinks.

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It’s worth noting, that in order to maintain its genteel atmosphere, The Everleigh doesn’t accept groups larger than 6 people, unless you have booked a function in their newly refurbished Elk Room. More about that later.

Four gins are available at The Everleigh. Martin Miller’s, The Melbourne Gin Company, a Geniver and another which can’t remember.

What I love most about drinking here is the attention to detail.

The ice comes in a glass length block, ensuring a slow melt so as not to dilute your drink. The straw is a chilled stainless steel affair, while the tonic (Capi) is served in a small jug, so you can add to suit your taste.

The Elk Room is a delightful addition to the original bar area. Concealed behind theatrical velvet curtains, it can be booked for functions (note there is a minimum spend), but fortunately is open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights. Large, leather chesterfield armchairs, old books and other assorted knick knacks create an inviting, homely place to put the world to rights while enjoying a cocktail or two.

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The Everleigh, Upstairs, 150-156 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.

Follow them on Facebook, twitter and instagram.