2024 is shaping up to be an interesting year in terms of bar openings, with several new establishments already starting to pop up in Melbourne. In the suburb of Northcote, an impressive group of hospitality superstars have joined forces for the opening of Goodwater, a neighbourhood bar with a focus on American whiskey.
Led by Nathaniel White, formerly of Whisky & Alement and Angel’s Envy, the group includes Fred Siggins (Whisky & Alement, The Victorian Whisky Festival), Cara Devine (Behind the Bar), John Hallett (formerly The Everleigh), Kia Rasteh (Honey Barrel), Yao Wong (Co-Owner of The Elysian Whisky Bar), and April Hudson (The Keys).
In a conversation with Bars and Clubs, Fred explained how the group came together, and how easily they formed a shared vision.
“Nathaniel was really the driving force behind everything, the project is his idea and he convinced the rest of us to get on board. He’s so passionate about everything that we knew he’d have the drive to make it work.
“Once we got together and started chatting, it became pretty clear that we all had pretty similar ideas for what kind of place we wanted and that we all shared the same basic philosophy of hospitality. It helps that we’re all mates, too.
“I think the best part is that we’ve all been able to allow the vision to materialise as it’s happening. To a certain extent, you have to let the space and the budget and the ideas of the people around you mould the vision rather than being rigid, especially when you’re not starting out with a million bucks.”
According to Fred, drawing on each person’s individual experience was intrinsic to the formation of the hospitality powerhouse.
“It’s an amazing group of people. Nate and Yao’s whiskey knowledge is insane, Cara’s a gun with wine and service on top of her obvious spirits knowledge, and John’s cocktails are brilliant. Kia’s business knowledge and passion for American whiskey, plus having a non-hospitality point of view has been really critical, and I’m a trained chef, so I’m heading up the food side of things, as well as being our resident plant dad.
“We all listen to each other, and bounce off each other. Of course, there’s tension sometimes, but that’s healthy in a creative environment, and we all have a lot of respect for each other.”
Describing the concept behind the bar, Fred says: “Goodwater is inspired by modern American bar culture through a Melbourne lens, with a brilliant selection of American whiskey, engaging cocktails and regional American bar snacks.
“But first and foremost, we want it to be a neighbourhood bar where people have a good time. Northcote is a community and we wanted to be a part of that. So, while we did set out to have Australia’s best American whiskey selection, we also wanted to have great cocktails, great wine, great local beers, great music, great food, and most importantly great service.
“I think we’ve all worked in places where people are a little overly focused on the drinks or the theme of the venue, we’re happy to share our love of good drinks and make people happy.”
And with John, formerly of The Everleigh, heading up the cocktail programme at Goodwater, it’s guaranteed to make people happy.
“Our list is a bit of a new concept where people can have all of our signature cocktails in one of three ways; as a stiff stirred drink, as a refreshing version (shaken or highball style), or as a non-alcoholic cocktail,” says Fred.
He says the approach to the cocktail menu was for people to pick the flavours and ingredients that interested them, rather than getting hung up on certain glassware or styles.
“Our favourite right now is the 400 Rabbits, with tarragon-infused Calle 23 tequila, fresh peach juice and grapefruit.
“We’re also doing house twists on classic American whiskey drinks, so all the favourites like Sours, Manhattans, and Old Fashioneds are there, but each has a little Goodwater signature move thrown in for a little fun.
“Plus, there’s some fun stuff like the Badwater, which is our seasonal cocktail on tap based loosely on Vodka Cruisers, and our Champagne Old Fashioned, which is the house bourbon and coke with Four Roses, orange bitters and a dash of absinthe.”
As you might imagine, American whiskey features heavily on the cocktail list, and for Melbourne hospitality professionals wanting to learn more about American whiskey, Goodwater already has a packed roster of brand launches and events over the coming months.
Accompanying the curated cocktail list is a food menu based on regional American flavours served as bar snacks, with the likes of a high-class grilled cheese sandwich, cornmeal-breaded pickle chips and NOLA-style shrimp po-boys.
“Right now, the most popular dish is the General Tso’s chicken ribs,” says Fred. “General Tso’s is a staple on all America Chinese takeaway menus, but it’s not actually Chinese. The flavours are Sichuan in origin, but the dish itself was invented in LA, kind of like how Tikka Masala was invented in the UK.”