When partners Doug Laming and Merlin Kibe saw the space at 77 Stanley Street in Inner Sydney’s Darlinghurst, they quickly saw the connections to the New Orleans hospitality scene.
The big old terrace house had a balcony overlooking the street, with the inside already decked out in green, white and purple colours against a beautiful wooden bar top, and lit by lanterns. This aesthetic was also already connected to the atmosphere they wanted to create, a mishmash of all their favourite parts of New Orleans.
Named The Big Easy after the nickname of the city that inspired them, Laming and Kibe told Bars and Clubs they are focused on creating a specific type of service experience.
“We’ve both been in the industry so long, we like to be able to look up with people that are on the same journey as us and want to be part of what we’ve got here to offer and how we can offer it,” Laming said.
“Let’s have a good time with it and a bit of a chat – I really wanted the bar to be more like an extension of our living room.”
Kibe added: “We wanted it to be very chill and for us to be more friends as well with the customers.”
With Laming behind the bar and Kibe on the floor, the co-owner pair foster this vibe themselves wherever possible. But they know that it can’t be solely reliant on them physically being in the building.
“We spent a lot of time in building the brand in itself in The Big Easy, and then what the Big Easy stood for and the mission statement of it with tone of voice. And I guess it is a little bit reflective of myself in some ways as well. But the important thing was to have a bar and business with longevity, which means the brand needs to be bigger than the people operating it,” Laming said.
“If we’re not here every day, our values and the way that we want the venue to operate need to be installed into the venue and into the business itself… but not to the extent where the bar relies on the fact that I’m in the bar making cocktails and Merlin’s on the floor chatting to the people and looking after them.”
Everything at The Big Easy, from the design to the menu to the service style, has been carefully curated to create an effortless impression of the character Laming and Kibe want.
Drawing from their New Orleans inspiration, there is a blend of design cues from the city’s classic roots and fun atmosphere. Some sections have moody lighting, hanging ferns and voodoo pieces, while others blend refined elements of the French Quarter with Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street party style.
Elsewhere, you’ll find a rooftop with live music sets throughout summer and an outdoor courtyard decked out in fairy lights. There’s also some fusion with Australia and America, that sees murals by locally-based artists Natty B and Kentaro Yoshida go alongside PBR branded wallpaper and the Australian brewed but American style pale ale of the house’s exclusive Skulligator, a collaboration with Mornington Peninsula Brewery.
As Laming describes all the elements and their inspiration, he said: “It’s meant to be a little bit of this and a little bit of that to take pretty much the parts of it that we liked to create an overall view and I thought a lot of that would come through from the atmosphere of the venue itself and how it was actually conducted.”
Complementing the physical side of the venue is a thoughtfully crafted drinks menu, celebrating New Orleans legendary cocktail culture and Laming and Kibe’s favourite tipple styles in a fun and unique style. Even the menu fits the vibe, with cocktail names like ‘Manspritz’ and ‘Dirty South Hipster’ as well as tasting notes like ‘sausage rolls’ and ‘not shit.’
In terms of the cocktails, Laming wanted to pay homage to New Orleans classics with his own twist on them. On top of that, he said: “You’ve gotta have cocktails that are there for the people, right? If you write any form of cocktail recipe now, pretty much, its gotta taste good and its gotta be Instagrammable. And if it’s got a good name, even better.”
One of the popular ones that fit this description is a lychee martini under the name Basic Bitch, which Laming and Kibe described as one of their most popular.
The beer and wine list on the other hand is intentionally kept small, partnering with brands that suit the venue and that are popular back in the bar’s namesake home. They’ve also tended to lean towards the styles of wine they most enjoy, like dry, aromatic whites and structured, contemporary, dry reds.
It’s clear that since opening the doors officially late last year, Laming and Kibe are extremely passionate about what they’ve created at The Big Easy. And now, with lockout laws a thing of the past, they’re interested in seeing how the local area reacts, considering the street is currently largely full of venues with midnight trading licences.
In this short time they’ve been open, they’ve said that one of the most frustrating issues that the industry should shed light on more is the disparity between males and females.
Laming said they noticed a lot of coverage of their opening hadn’t even mentioned Kibe, despite the huge milestone she had achieved.
“There’s now a 28 year old female that owns her own bar in the middle of Darlinghurst that has opened pretty well and it’s been going really well. Especially someone who was born and raised in Estonia, been here for eight years and now she owns 50 per cent of this bar with me… but a lot of the articles only mentioned me in them,” Laming said.
“It’s a big thing when someone goes, I own a bar, and then none of these articles have mentioned her name in the start of it.”
Kibe agrees as Laming talks, the pair holding hands as they candidly tell Bars and Clubs about their surprise and disappointment. Although they understand Laming’s resume shows a history more in the cocktail sphere where The Big Easy shines, both co-owners have put in the work and effort and deserve some representation.
While highlighting the great work that is being done to represent females in hospitality, this experience for the pair has made them realise there is still more to do in the industry to support gender equality.
The Big Easy is open now – Wednesdays from 4pm and weekends from midday.