Haley has been popping up a lot in my social media lately and she is always wanting to expand her knowledge on cocktails, spirits and the industry. She is one of the most enthusiastic young bartenders that I have met in Melbourne and I thought we should all get to know what makes her jump behind the bar every night.
MTS How many years have you been in the industry?
HD Just over 2 now. In 6 months I'll be past my terrible 2's and maybe I'll stop throwing tantrums behind the bar when things don't work the way I want them to.
MTS Where did you start?
HD I think I was the only person to ever benefit from a bar school. I spent a week learning basics at 'Holliava' in Richmond and managed to throw in a Mighty Boosh reference to drinking Baileys from a shoe. Turns out the girl taking care of the bar while we were training loved Mighty Boosh and offered me a trial. Big thanks to Mr Tom Trevaskis for giving me a chance behind the bar before I even knew how to make a vodka, lime soda. Now that I really think about that, a bunch of guys that took far too much acid found me my career.
MTS Where are you now? Tell us about it.
HD: I just started at Holy Grail on Chapel Street about 6 weeks ago. It's dark, it's dirty, you can smoke in the front bar and from time to time I'll play At The Drive in as loud as I can. We do also take our drinks just as serious as the every other venue though. It's not by any stretch a fine cocktail establishment but with a new list coming out in the next few weeks and a new and young team behind the stick it is going to be a venue to watch. We are a family there, one thats eager to learn and I am yet to work a night where both the staff and customers are not in tears from laughter by close. Don't ever act surprised if you see or hear our security belting out the words to Shannon Nolls 'What About Me' whilst passing by.
MTS What's your poison?
HD Rum, rum and a bit more rum. I spent 6 months locked in a basement at Aloha Sailor surrounded by rum and I very quickly became a functioning rum alcoholic. Each rum is so unique, so much so I will generally only ever drink neat rum when I am out because discovering those flavour profiles is so fascinating to me. I think the guys over at Rum Diary can confirm I have made my way through 90% of their back bar in that exact way. I still stand by 2 of my original favourites though, Ron Zacapa 23 and Diplimatico Reserva Exclusiva.
MTS What's your favourite cocktail and why?
HD I guess this goes hand in hand with the previous question. A rum old fashioned will always be my number 1. When it comes down to specifics though I am open to the bartenders choice. Since the day I learnt this cocktail I have been in search of the perfect specs. Rum combination, dilution, type of sweetner, perfect bitters combination, ice or no ice, type of garnish and the truth is I will never find it. Thats what makes it my favourite; I will never stop learning from that one drink.
MTS Why do you do what you do?
HD I often get asked at work what I want to be and it actually frustrates me. I finished high school at the top of my year. I got out of a small town and moved to Melbourne to study a double degree in PR and marketing at university. By choice I dropped out (sorry Mum and Dad) and I took up bartending and never looked back. I do it because I love it, not because I got stuck doing it. I have always loved and studied art and I have a reasonably creative mind and now I am able to use that in the way of cocktails and flavours.
MTS What inspires you?
HD Honestly; people that are better at my job than me. Which at the moment is most bartenders I know. I don't say that in a sense of trying to put myself down but the truth is I am still very new to this. I don't know what I am doing despite what I try to make people believe. I look at bartenders in clubs and I strive to be able to pour 15 drinks as quickly as they can. I see the bartenders in venues like The Black Pearl and I will stand and stare at them for 20 minutes to try and grasp how their minds create what they do and so quickly. I'm sure I have made several of them feel incredibly uncomfortable but it was all in the name of science!
MTS How do you feel being a female in a male dominated industry?
HD I was going to make a joke here about the ongoing theme of Jamal sexually harassing everyone at Holy Grail but it would be in bad taste. Also, he happily harasses the boys just as much (if not more). I just see it as more of a reason to be even better. I don't struggle with this as much as I have heard other females do. I grew up racing motorbikes and then I played soccer for 6 years, 2 years in mens teams. I dress like a boy and I act like one more often than not. I'll get the kegs at work and carry the furniture in and out on my own. I have never felt intimidated or belittled at work due to my sex, if anything I have always felt the polar opposite. I guess that also comes down to the venue you work in and I have always worked with people who are incredibly respectful towards me.
MTS How do you want your career to evolve? Got some goals eh?
HD The ultimate goal is the same as most serious bartenders I guess, be featured in Justin Beiber's next film clip (I'm kidding, I don't even like the guy). Own my own venue. For now though, I am just focusing on becoming a better all round bartender and building my spirit, beer and wine knowledge. You'll see me popping up at far more cocktail comps this year and attending and hosting a heap of tastings. I have also hijacked the cocktail list at Holy Grail and I guess the next step is to start building a name for myself.
MTS If you could educate your clientele on one thing, what would it be?
HD Without sounding too harsh here, I don't think I could choose any one thing because there are far too many. I'll let the fact vodka is a horrible spirit slide on this one and ill say the trend of putting straws in coupe and martini glasses needs to stop. It spoils the taste of a drink by skipping the tastebuds at the front of your tongue and ruining the mouth feel of a drink at the same time. Yes I used the words "mouth feel".' It breaks my heart when I put up a cocktail I'm super proud of and they ask for a straw.
Photos by Joshua Myles
This is Blake Hall. Blake enjoys long strolls down Chapel Street and Japanese Slippers. Blake also has the air of "Mr. Popular" in the Melbourne hospitality industry. Perhaps it has something to do with how charismatic he is. Maybe it's his expansive knowledge about EVERYTHING (ask him for life advice, he's a great psychologist). I think it's just the fact that he always has the time to talk shop with everyone. Blake is one of the most entertaining bartenders out there and I thought y'all should hear what makes him tick.
Photo Gorge Camorra
MTS: How many years have you been in this fine industry?
BH: I've been in the industry for 5 years. It's not long, but I've seen some things...
MTS: Where did you start your journey?
BH: I started as a banquets waiter doing a hospitality course in a casino. It was an interesting job with a lot of transferable skills, most notably the ability to build static charge when removing nylon tablecloths and unleashing it on unsuspecting waiters.
MTS: Where are you now?
BH: I'm working at an amazing little whisky bar called The Woods of Windsor. It's a great spot that is full of passionate staff that are all better looking than I am. I'm super proud to be a part of the venue, it's the kind of place that pushes itself to be hospitable, we want everyone to have a great time and try a new experience. The whole venue just feels great to drink in but most importantly every single team member brings something new to the table. It's a huge pleasure to work so closely with them; we all inspire each other to better ourselves and our customers experiences.
Photo Gorge Camorra
MTS: What's you favourite spirit?
BH: Whisky. It's incredibly versatile and driven by people who live and breathe it. It's such a rapidly growing category with new people who are excited to learn more about it every time they drink.
MTS: Cocktail of choice?
BH: I'd love to say my favourite cocktail is a dry gin Martini with a peated whisky rinse, but I'd be lying. It's probably the tastiest, but I still have to go with the Japanese Slipper. It's one of the first great cocktails I learned to make, it's colourful, balanced and just damn fun. I make no apologies.
MTS: Why do you do what you do?
BH: This is a complicated industry. There are a great number of people who pour their heart and soul into what they do, they have the knowledge akin to a scientist, labour on their feet with the hours of a tradesmen, smile and chat and move products like a travelling salesman and work the late night hours of an international liaison. Except we have the pay packets of none of them.
In order to do our jobs with the utmost effectiveness we spend our time off at tastings, industry events or studying. It's a lifestyle fuelled by passion that is full of rewards, challenges and shots of Chartreuse. You have to love what you do, and reap the rewards of your good customers leaving your venue smiling and you laugh about the bad ones with a beer at the end of the shift. And when you love what you do, is it really work?
Photo Adam Bothwell
MTS: What inspires you as a bartender?
BH: There are 2 main things that inspire me. Products and people. I love learning the story behind a brand of booze, learning the flavour profile and building a drink around it.
The second is people. You can learn something new from everyone. Whether it's watching one of your waiters topping up water at the table instead of pouring glasses at the station so they have some time to break the ice, discovering new ways of delivering drinks by watching other bartenders, competitions or the mysterious Array or my boss Adam telling me my orange twists suck.
MTS: How do you want your career to evolve? Got any amazing goals?
BH: As much as I like putting things in cups (and that is an awful lot) the dream job is to work with a spirit or portfolio that I'm passionate about and run around the country talking about it. Those jobs are few and far between but I would happily take any position that would allow me to help shape the industry, specifically the young minds shaping it.
There are a lot of people who love sharing their knowledge and experiences out there, and they're outnumbered by the waves of people who are willing to listen and learn. I want to be a part of that.
MTS: If you could educate your clientele on one thing, what would it be?
BH: If I could educate costumers in one thing it would be to put faith in the people looking after them in their venues. The mentality is that we all want to squeeze the largest amount of money out of our customers as possible, but this doesn't always work for every business model. I love chatting to a guest and discovering their preferences, then offering them a new experience within their budget. Sure, they may have never had a beer with a straight single malt or tried some obscure forgotten cocktail from the back of an old dusty book before, but when a venue does what they do well it's always great to see customers enjoying the absolute best experience that has been tailored exclusively for their tastes. This is the hospitality industry, you're in our home now and by God are we going to look after you, you're going to leave watered, fed and with a smile on your face and we'll see you at the same time next week. That's what we do and we do it well so get amongst it.