Meet the Bartender: Joe & Rita, Romeo Lane

If you haven’t been to Romeo Lane, you’re missing out. Joe and Rita have nailed it as far as location, venue, drinks and insanely beautiful glassware are concerned. (And I’m not just saying that because they shared the best place to source vintage glassware from. Ssssh.)

Aside from knocking out some of the best drinks in Melbourne, Joe and Rita are a couple. A super cute one at that. I have no idea how they make it work, being together full-time, but they pull that off too!

How long have you been mixing drinks?

Joe: Like, three or four years maybe? It’s hard to be precise when you’re constantly sipping cocktails.

Rita: I’ve been bartending for about 7 years now

What’s the best thing about your job?

Joe: Getting to spend every night showing people a good time in my bar. That and having the pleasure of working alongside some of my best friends and my beautiful and talented girlfriend. There’s not many complaints really.

Rita: The best thing about working at Romeo Lane is the sort of mature interesting people who walk through our door with open minds, good palates and diverse tastes. I also enjoy drinking left over champagne with Joey after a busy weekend…

Who or what inspires you?

Joe: Lots of things really. I find the pursuit of refining how we work and what we do at the bar inspiring. It’s always a good reason to keep trying to improve personally and to learn more about everything going on around you. Then there’s a few other bartenders whose work I really get a kick out of. On a daily basis though, mainly rock n roll music and the vibe of the customers!

Rita: I feel like I didn’t start to properly create drinks and be inspired until
I started working with Joey, he has always made me want to be better at my job, and been someone equally interested in the style of drinks that I was looking to make. When everyone was infusing something or making flavoured syrups and shrubs and fat washes, we were trying out classic flavours and old european ingredients to make simple delicious drinks.

What’s your favourite gin and how do you like to drink it?

Joe: It’s a tough call. It’d be splitting hairs between Sipsmith and Plymouth, but either way, I like it in something Martini-esque. An Archangel (cucumber, gin, Aperol) or the Alaska (london dry gin, yellow chartreuse liqueur, fino sherry, orange bitters) are pretty strong contenders there.

Rita: My favourite gin is Sipsmith or Plymouth, a strong london dry flavour, in a stirred smokey style drink like a mezcal Martinez, Petruchio or smokey martini.

A customer has never tried gin, what cocktail would you recommend?

Joe : It depends. We put people through a pretty regimented line of questioning when they’re uncertain about what drink to have, so we can get a better idea of what they actually want. Just the usual stuff like ‘stirred and strong’ or ‘light and refreshing’, ‘citrus or no citrus’ and so on.

Everyone’s different, but I find that a Bee’s Knees ticks quite a few boxes for most people. It’s simple, approachable and wildly enjoyable. It also doesn’t obscure the flavour of the gin too much which is a plus for first time consumers.

Rita: If no-one has ever tried gin before I would give them a fresh juice gimlet because it allows a person to experience gin in its most basic form, without any crazy flavours obscuring the gin.

What’s your favourite gin cocktail and why?

Joe: It would have to be The Rolls Royce. It’s strong and has enough complexity to keep it interesting the whole way through. All that and it’s insanely tasty!

Rita: My favourite gin cocktail is a wet plymouth martini with lillet blanc and a lemon twist. It’s simple, a good aperitif or digestive, not too strong with a heavy vermouth component and is never a struggle to get through. Plymouth Navy is my preference, but very hard to find in Australia these days. The last place I had one was at bar Void in the depths of Mona…

Tell me some of your favourite bars?

Joe: Locally, I’d say The Everleigh and Bar Americano. I’m not so well versed in bars all over the world, but I think Attaboy and The Violet Hour are the business.

Rita: The Worship Street Whistling Shop in London, it’s dark, loud, and fun but with interesting, experimental cocktails and table service. I also like the New Sydney Hotel in Hobart, it’s warm and cosy with a live band, cold beer and a smoking courtyard

What’s next?

Joe : Very possibly another bar! Hopefully a holiday before that happens though.

Rita: Getting Romeo Lane off the ground so Joey and I can take a holiday and drink some gin in a non professional manner!

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