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?
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
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?
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.