Global Bar Report 2022: Australasia
The Australasian region has many great bars, with more on the horizon, but staffing remains an issue, Nicola Carruthers discovers.
From Sydney to Melbourne, and Auckland to Queenstown, the Australasia region has become established as a hub of cocktail creativity.
This year’s Diageo World Class cocktail competition headed to Sydney after being postponed in 2020, bringing even more attention to Australia’s blossoming bar scene.
Sydney bars Maybe Sammy and Cantina OK also took a spot on the World’s 50 Best Bars list of 2022, while the former also achieved the Best International Bar Team accolade at this year’s Spirited Awards.
Ryan Bickley, general manager of Cantina OK, a 20-seat agave spirits bar in Sydney, said the Australian bar scene is flourishing, citing areas such as Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth as key cocktail areas. One challenge in the industry has been to recruit and retain staff, he notes. “There was a period where experienced bartenders were in positions that were paid very well, and then coming out of something like Covid-19 and lockdown there just weren’t enough staff – any average Joe could almost get a job at any world-class bar, and they’d be paid a fortune.”
It’s a similar problem for New Zealand bar owner Jason Rosen, who opened Broken Lantern in Auckland at the end of 2021. The bar has turned to overseas workers after struggling to find homegrown staff for two years. “This means we need to hire a recruiter and pay for our recent staff’s relocations from places like Scotland, Thailand, the Philippines, and areas around Europe, and we are still desperately on the hunt for more people to help lighten the load on our current teams,” says Rosen.
Maybe Sammy’s co-owner Stefano Catino, meanwhile, says it is a struggle for his staff to find accommodation because Sydney has become busier as it reopens to tourists.
Melbourne has also emerged as a key cocktail city, according to Luke Whearty, founder of the city’s Byrdi bar. He says the city has become an area where everyone works and lives, as opposed to Sydney, where home-working is more prevalent.
Catino also notes Brisbane must not be underestimated, as it will host the 2032 Summer Olympics. “There will be redevelopment, and a lot of people will invest there, with more new openings. It’s embracing the cocktail and drinking culture.”
He also singled out Adelaide as having “some of the best distillery tours and wine tours in the region”, with at least six exciting bars in the city.
The Australia On Premise Consumer Pulse report by CGA in October also signalled that visits to the on-trade are stable, with two in five consumers going out with the same regularity as usual.
Those drinkers who are going out more often than normal said they were doing so to ‘treat themselves’, ‘try new places’, or because ‘they are less concerned’ about the Covid-19 pandemic. With supply-chain issues affecting the industry, bar owners have also turned to sourcing more locally.
Rosen says: “It’s been great to see a lot more bars do something we have been doing at [Auckland bar] Parasol & Swing, and get in the kitchen. This means planning their drinks not just from what they can buy from a supplier, but what they can make themselves using fresh seasonal ingredients like local produce, unique flavour combinations and, of course, ingredient or flavour combinations you might not normally associate with cocktails.”
Expat Matt Whiley brought his pioneering focus on local ingredients and sustainability from his former acclaimed bar Scout in London, to Re, the bar he opened in April 2021 in Sydney’s South Eveleigh suburb. The menu changes regularly, depending on what the venue’s food-and-vegetable supplier has going to waste. Herbs are also sourced from a hydroponic company that has a lot of waste, Whiley says.
Sydney’s bar scene continues to expand with an abundance of new openings. Next year, Whearty and Whiley will open a bar in Sydney called Kin, while the team behind Maybe Sammy will open a Tequila bar by the end of 2022.
There is much to explore among the region’s award-winning bars, with plenty of new venues to discover.
Bars to Watch in 2023
Bar Planet – Sydney, Australia
The team behind Cantina OK swapped Margaritas for Martinis with the opening of Bar Planet in Newtown this year. The drinks champion local growers and producers in Australia and New Zealand. The bar’s signature Martini is made with a seasonal gin from local distillery Poor Toms, with plenty of gin and vodka-based Martini options on the menu.
With Harrison Kenney, the Aussie bartender who won this year’s Patrón Perfectionists contest, at its helm, the bar is sure to become a hotspot in Sydney. “I want to take this totally unique service style and genuine hospitality from a micro-scale (Cantina OK) into a larger but equally fanatical form,” says Kenney.
Teresa Cocktail Bar – Napier, New Zealand
The brainchild of Andrea Marseglia and Sarah Mitchell, aperitivo bar Teresa opened in December 2021, in the small city of Napier. Teresa, which is discreetly hidden behind a deli called Harvest, is heavily influenced by Italy’s aperitivo culture. The cocktails use foraged ingredients, and were inspired by the Italian Futurism art movement.
“The entire Futurism chat was to erase the past, but look at the future in a different way,” says Marseglia. “This is a little bit of what we do, especially with the ingredients. We look at it a different way; how can we make it special? How can we make it unique? And we basically go from there.”
El Primo Sanchez – Sydney, Australia
The Mexican-inspired bar will be the fifth venue opened by The Maybe Group, which also owns Maybe Sammy, and Dean & Nancy. This December, drinkers can expect to discover Mexico in the 1980s at El Primo Sanchez, which will be more casual than the group’s other outlets.
Cocktails will be served in traditional handmade clay jarrito jugs, while Mexican and Latino produce will be used for the drinks, alongside a wide selection of agave spirits. The venue is being opened in partnership with Australian pub operator Public Hospitality on the ground floor of The Rose Hotel in the Paddington suburb of Sydney.