What makes a great bar? Part 2

We gathered some of the best in the industry – from bar group operators to managers to brand ambassadors to a bar journo and a PR expert – to find out what exactly goes into pulling all the threads together into a cohesive and great bar operation.

• Emily Lloyd-Tait, Time Out Bars Editor for Sydney
• Meg Smith, SideCar
• Toby Hilton, Swillhouse
• Michael Nouri, The Exchange
• Jeremy Shipley, Solotel
• Russ McFadden, Bar Manager of EDV Sydney


TH: It’s tough. You have to keep your standards high and what you open with, your standards with your staff, and you get that right and you’re busy for the first little while. If you keep doing what you’re doing and keep the bar high and keep the product good and keep evolving and changing – if you can do that, there is no reason why you shouldn’t stay busy.

JS: You need to be true to yourself. Some people read reviews and that is the be all and end all. Bloggers can come out with these broad statements that are potentially read by hundreds of people.  Then people,  bartenders and bar owners, read that and think, “Oh my god I’ve got to change that”. But you’ll end up deviating from what you set out to do in the first place and I think it’s a really important thing to not worry about.

MN: People make panicked decisions. The second something slows down for a day, they freak. And it’s usually people who are new to it. So they’ve got a generally good concept – it’s never going to be perfect from the get go – but if you make a rash decision based on “Oh my god it’s quiet this week”, you’re screwed. There is no consistency and no trust.

ELT: That’s the fun part – when the gloss has gone off it and it’s gone into the long service arena. We go back and we re-review it and we try to tell everyone “This is still awesome”. And often the response is “But this one is shiny” and we’re saying “But this one is good and I feel like that is a better thing”.

TH: When you look back to Bayswater, I think the reason they were so successful for so many years was because they were consistent. You knew what you were going to get: amazing service, amazing fit out and you could sit at the bar and chat to the amazing bartenders and they never really changed. They were just Bayswater and you knew what you were going to get. That’s really important.


JS: In my opinion, long gone are the days of just making a really nice cocktail. There are so many more elements to it. How many people are on their phones doing this and that on social media – it’s got to look good, it’s got to be nice glassware, it’s got to have engaging colours or garnish. What EDV does is a great example – beautiful glassware, amazing garnishes and amazing tasting drinks. That whole camera thing is now a big part of what we do.

MN: More and more people are educated now so venues can risk sounding condescending by trying too hard and treating their customers as infantile. Any education that needs to happen should be at the bar, not at the book. The book is there to entice and engage.

MS: I just don’t want to spend an hour reading a menu. People want to get a drink and they want it to be simplified and they want to know what is in the drink, if there is something that is familiar to them. I think menus are really changing from when they tried to tell you how your cocktail would make you feel. “It’ll make you feel like you’re running down a country road with a five year old child with a handful of daisies”. I don’t need to know that.

TH: It depends on the venue but less is definitely more these days, there is nothing more frustrating than someone coming into a venue, flicking two or three times through the menu then just kind of putting it down and saying “Just give me a bourbon and coke please”.

RM: At EDV we have 47 signature drinks. EDV has got that sort of different way of looking at it. Yes the menu is super extensive but it is broken down and it is about that interaction as well. We would never ever let anyone sit there and just read the menu. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. It’s about making sure that your staff are capable of guiding them – which is why we have bartenders on the floor not just floor staff. Also, there are also a whole lot of ingredients in drinks that just don’t need to be listed because people don’t know what they are and you’re going to end up with a lot of drinks that don’t move because of that.

ELT: With menus, there is also the need to not be a dick when someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Smart menus have multiple access points. Bulletin does the thing where they draw the glass – it’s just a little symbol but it immediately says: that’s short, that’s long. So customers can decide what they want from that. Some places do a summary at the bottom, like “refreshingly sour” – that is two key words that someone who doesn’t know what they want can latch on to and think “Cool, I’d like that”. Then the next access point is classics – people can think, well I know a little bit about those cocktails. Then you can get creative on the next tier for the people who are at that point. But those smart menus, no one feels excluded and no one feels like a dope for not knowing what the ‘rules’ are or how to conduct themselves ‘properly’.


RM: It’s hospo 101. Too many venues that you walk into you literally have to get to the bar before someone will acknowledge you. I’ve gone to a venue where I was sat at the bar for ten minutes before anyone offered me a menu or said hello. It should be a matter of seconds – as soon as they walk through the door.

MS: Then there is the element of walking into a bar and being a rabbit in the spotlight when everyone says hi all at once. Then there is over attentiveness. Once I have my drink and I’m chatting with my friend, don’t come and ask me five times if the snack you’ve given us tastes OK.

ELT: There is another step though, I’ve been to a few venues where you walk in and they say “Hi” and I say “Hi” and then they just stare at you awkwardly. You can tell they’ve been told to greet the guests but there is no follow up, so I’m left to say “So… do I just sit anywhere..? OK yeah, cool”.


Keep an eye out for Part 3… And check out Part 1 here

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