Evan Stroeve has just finished his first decade in the hospitality industry where he has accelerated his career and skillset at an impressive speed on his way to becoming one of Australia’s best bartenders.
While still brimming with excitement from his most recent feat, claiming Diageo World Class Australian Bartender of the Year 2021, the 28 year-old caught up with Bars and Clubs to chat about the path he’s travelled, and his excitement for the future of the industry.
Having grown up in Bathurst, Evan’s first job behind the bar was at one of the local pubs Elephant & Castle Hotel when he was 18 years-old.
A year later he moved to Sydney where he started a degree in Journalism. It was during this time that Evan first started bar backing at Shady Pines Saloon in Darlinghurst, and this was where his journey truly kicked-off.
He told Bars and Clubs: “That is where I fell in love with the craft and creativity. Watching those boys come in each day and have so much fun doing it.
“I fell in love with the dark side and left University with a year left and threw everything into hospitality.”
In the subsequent years, Evan joined Swillhouse Group, going from bar back to bartender at Frankie’s Pizza, also enjoying time at The Baxter Inn and Restaurant Hubert.
However, he always had a soft spot for Shady Pines, spending four and a half years with the team between his other roles in the industry.
His big break came just five years into his career when Bulletin Place Bar offered him a senior bartender role in 2017. In 2018, he also started working on his own aperitif label, Rhubi Mistelle, with Bulletin Place owner Tim Philips, which officially launched in February this year. While at Bulletin, he progressed through the business where he was appointed General Manager and stayed on board until taking time off during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
He said getting through last year was one of the hardest moments of his career: “I hate to use the word but it was unprecedented, and we all went our separate ways and went back home or we went to family’s houses or locked-in down here in Sydney.
“There was a bit of grief period and we felt like we’d lost our way of life for the foreseeable future and having to kind of adjust from that and come back to work and kind of readjust business models that was really tough across the board.”
After his short break, Evan started the new year on a clean slate, taking up Operations Manager at recently opened bar Re under industry heavyweights Matt Whiley and Maurice Terzini.
Having a career drenched in experience throughout the bar scene, Evan owes his personal success to the confidence he gained at competitions and in leadership roles throughout the industry.
“I think my first on-paper success was winning the Blends cocktail competition. That was the first time I entered one and was fortunate enough of get a trip up to the Hunter Valley where I won the competition so that was pretty formative for me,” he said.
“Being at the helm of Bulletin and watching it grow into at different beast in terms of its creative output and that was reflected in us winning the Best Sustainable Bar Program award at the 2019 Australian Bar Awards, and I was again fortunate enough to win Bar Manager of the Year as well.
“We also made it back on the top 50 World’s Best Bar list coming in at 34.
“Now I’m here at Re’s and loving it and winning the World Class is probably the biggest achievement to date, it was pretty awesome.”
Evan said he is excited to see how consumers are taking in alcohol differently in 2021, noting the increase in the ‘better for you’ movement and an appreciation for bottled cocktails.
He said: “We’re looking at more and more low ABV but it has been trending for the last five years. There has been lots of bottle cocktails recently, we saw so many businesses be able to pivot, and immediately put across this incredible bottled cocktail as takeaway options for people.
“People appreciate the convenience of being able to get a world class cocktail in the comfort of their own home, so I’d imagine that offer will continue to grow.”
He added: “It’s the same stuff that it always has been, consumers are paying attention to locality and community in terms of produce and things like seltzers. Anything with bubbles will be trending.
“I liked the idea of the industry focusing not just on themselves, but the growers and suppliers, communities, artisans, and providers that make what we do possible.”
Meanwhile at Re, Evan couldn’t identify a stand-out trend over the bar, saying he’s seen a boost in nightlife trade with consumers edging towards the more absurd cocktails they have on the menu.
He said: “We are really busy [at Re] and that’s awesome. All the drinks are really tasty. We’re fortunate that we’ve got so much kind of publicity and the doors are open and people are kind of flooding through.
“We’re selling heaps of everything. We’re having to place an order every couple of days.
“Consumers are getting everything, from something as classic and recognizable as a rockmelon Margarita which flies off the shelf, and then we’ve got a drink called a Wimbledon Gimlet which is probably interestingly neck and neck in terms of sales.
“The Wimbledon Gimlet is my favourite. People always have a question when they see the ingredients.
“It’s got distilled pickled strawberry, a vinegar, milk wine cordial and really no one knows what the fuck any of those things are so it pops the question for people to engage with that so we get to explain the process and when people drink it, they say ‘holy shit, that is really good’.”
Although Evan is still forging his own path in the hospitality industry, he believes the key to get where he is today, is by absorbing as much knowledge from peers and professionals as possible.
“If you’re younger get your hands on as much material as possible. Work as many hours as possible, and do as much self-study as you can. Go to seminars and workshops that really contribute to you becoming a better bartender.
“But also maintain a balanced life. It’s something that we go on about, don’t bare your entire existence around work and that will also make you a better bartender. You’ll see more of the world from all different angles. Balance where you can but also work really hard,” he said.