Q&A with ALIA Bar Manager of the Year Alex Dahlenburg

Alex Dahlenburg ALIA win

Last week saw the Australian Liquor Industry Awards take place at The Star with Alex Dahlenburg and Jamie Fleming both winning the Bar Manager of the Year award.

Here’s what Alex had to say about her win.

You’ve been nominated for this award for the last three years, how does it feel to actually win the ALIA for Bar Manager of the Year?

Third time lucky right? I had absolutely no design on my name being read out at the awards this year because no joke, the nominations were amazing. The people in that category, some I’m proud to call my friends are all so deserving. I feel we’ve got so many awesome people who are doing great things, people who I would love to work with so I didn’t think I’d stand a chance. I stand corrected and it feels wonderful, especially sharing it with Jamie Fleming who’s killing life right now.

What was last week like for you, winning the Icon of Whisky award and the ALIA?

To be honest last week has been full on, a huge honour, however a bit of a blur and not from alcohol consumption. I get a little overwhelmed sometimes in that level of social atmosphere as we all can and last week was on a very tight schedule so I felt like I was constantly on the go and didn’t get a chance to breathe. We have a lot of work on right now at Speakeasy Group, there wasn’t time for hangovers and every day I was straight back into it. The team definitely didn’t let me have my head in the clouds. There was a moment that I stopped and thought… ‘Holy Shit, I won… Twice’ and just had a moment to myself in secret celebration.

I love when the team, the venue or the Speakeasy Group has a win. I definitely know how to celebrate that but I wasn’t sure how to deal with winning myself. It’s a first for me and one I’m not sure I’ll get used to. I am absolutely honoured but what last week taught me is who my ‘family’ is. The ones who took the reins when I was overwhelmed, brought the party to me in person, via messages or phone calls, the ones who were so excited for me and helped me celebrate these wins. They gave me all the positively, love and helped drown out any negativity that came my way and I’ll forever be grateful for that and I only hope I can return the favour. Last week was a BIG week.

Then to top it off, David Broom is following you on Insta. Can this week get any better?

I squealed!! I’m such a fan girl I had no idea and I was totally surprised when he commented on my ALIA’s win on Instagram, he then told me I was ‘daft’ for fan girlling…  I died. It was amazing.

I remember when he came to Mjølner one morning, Daniel Hutchins-Read brought him in to surprise me while he was on an Australian tour. I was alone in the venue, front door was unlocked as I was expecting the team to start arriving and these guys walked down the stairs (Dave Broom, Charlie Maclean and Alex Bruce) I got up and started saying ‘Sorry guys, we’re closed, you’ll have to….. (Insert all the swear words here )’ as I realised who was walking down the stairs… Whisky Royalty. I may have cried, I definitely hit DHR for not telling me as I would have made myself look a little more presentable and wouldn’t have made a dick of myself but so grateful for that moment. It was a real moment.

What can I say, some people fan girl over celebrities, I fan girl over someone who can talk about the composition of barley, the biological process of fermentation, the chemical reactions in distillation and the structure of wood. I like people who can sit me down, shut me up and tell me 10 things I don’t know. God I would die if I met Rachel Barrie right now, she’s just been made a Keeper of the Quaich and received an honorary doctorate in science from the Edinburgh University. She’s my current superhero.

What, for you, is the key to this industry recognition, and to running a successful venue?

Getting industry recognition and running a successful business comes hand in hand. For me I believe you should find something you’re passionate about because then you will work hard for it. Surround yourself with a great team who drive you and inspire you to be a better person each day. If you’re invited to events or RSVP, you should show up to them and support the amazing brands that support what we do in venues. Know your business, your numbers, expand where you’re weak and strive where you’re strong. The goal shouldn’t be for industry recognition but rather a successful business with a happy team and customers. Then the rest flows from there.

Passion, people and business.

Anyone you want to shout out to?

I want to shout out to the industry in general, I think we’re all killing it. We’ve taken some hits over the years but we keep modifying our business models to keep getting stronger and that’s just because of pure passion. There just needs to be more support within each other, big brands, small brands, bars, pubs, restaurants, managers, bartenders, wait staff, owners and kitchen teams, male, female or however you identify, we’re all here because we love what we do and we should champion each other more. It’s not about you individually but us as an industry and we can all lift each other up. Just be a nice human, support good humans doing good things, celebrate successes and don’t be a dickhead. Go TEAM! Hugs for everyone…

Finally, what would you say to anyone who’s not been to an ALIA and is thinking about coming along?

ALIA’s is a great experience for me every year, although this year’s event was just next level at The Star. The room was just such a good party. It includes the wider group of hospitality; pubs, clubs, hotels, bars, restaurants, big brands and craft brands. I came from the pub side of life originally and being in the room with everyone from my whole career, old friends and new, is just such a great experience. I just wish I could dance at the end of the night, the band was awesome. See you next year!

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