Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Growing up.

My first bar gig, like many others, began in extremely humble surroundings. I was seventeen, fresh faced out of school, and wondering what to do with my life. I had finished high school and a career teaching children was something I toyed with for a while. In the meantime -whilst I procrastinated - I took a job in the hills of Belgrave (an hour out of Melbourne city), working for an old friend who had recently converted an old post office into the Bell Tavern. All of a sudden bartending is what I wanted to do. I spent my weekends pulling beers, hustling Bourbon & cokes, and talking to girls. Or should I say girls talking to me. I guess the first real draw card to being a bartender, beside the free booze, is girls wanting to speak to you. A year and half later I was the belle of Bell Tavern and Belgrave. I moved on to the bright lights of the city.

The year: 2003. The bar: ffour. At the time Melbourne was taking off as Australia's cocktail capital. With thanks to easier liquor licensing laws, more innovative thinking and grungier venues it was leading the pack over its northern rival, Sydney. The Melbourne cocktail scene was being led by the likes of the funky Chaise Lounge, the crazy Der Raum, the institution Gin Palace, the dominant Ginger crew, Polly, Kitten Club, Cherry Bar, Honkytonks, and us at ffour. At the time I was merely a bussie for the likes of Shae Silvestro (now national Brown Forman ambassador) and one of the best bartenders in the country; Johnny Sit. I had aspirations though. I would do whatever it would take to get on that bar. Six months later I was a bartender, a year later I was head bartender. After eighteen months I would leave ffour as venue manager. A career in cocktail bartending awaited and I would leave ffour to work with another two fresh faced guys at a quiet spot in Fitzroy called Black Pearl.
Robb Sloan and Chris Boersma headed up the humble Black Pearl on Brunswick St. At the time I'm sure they could agree with me in saying Black Pearl wasn't setting the world on fire with it's cocktails. The drink list was dominated with synthetic purees, large amounts of juice-based cocktails, and flavoured vodkas. At about the same time Ginger, Australia's leading force in cocktail innovation, was going from strength to strength even after the legendary team of Sam Ross and Sebastian Reaburn had moved on. The bar team was being led by Mick Formosa and some loose kid from Brisbane, known to friends for his naked taxi-chasing escapades, but to most as 'Widge'.

I think it's fair to say the work Robb Sloan did for Black Pearl in the years he was there before I arrived is the reason the bar is as legendary as it is today. I guess i'd like to think I merley helped Robb find the energy and inspiration to keep pushing forward. And that's exactly what we did. In the two years I spent at Black Pearl Chris Boersma went from a raw newbie to one of the best bartenders i've worked with, we hired a foreign geezer named Cristiano Beretta -who for a long time - drank 97% of our Old Fashioned's sold in the place. Another guy hired was a stinky-haired hippy from the country who's classic lines on woman included the popular; "Do you wanna come back to mine and spoon?" His name is Chris Hysted.

I guess I still think the work we all did at Black Pearl was some of the best we have all ever done. Taking a small venue, owned by a lovely family and turning it into something beautiful is incredibly fulfilling. The current team of guys like Nathan Beasley, Adi Ruiz, Greg Sanderson, Evan Stanley coupled with the old brigade of last years Australian bartender of the year Chris Hysted and and the legendary - and incredibly cynical -Cristiano Beretta means that place is going from strength to strength.

I guess this post is an ode to the Melbourne bar scene, and the friends I have met from working in it. This is also a post of congratulations. Congratulations to my old friend, and cocktail competition sparring partner Jason 'Widge' Williams for taking home a well-deserved Bartender of the year title last night. Congratulations to every Melbourne bar who was nominated, but most of all congratulations to Black Pearl for winning Australia's best bar team, again. You have made me, and I'm sure all of the old Black Pearl crew proud and I look forward to joining you guys in a celebratory shot of Gin alongside a slice of some of Tash's homemade sausage rolls.

I have away for a few years now and am slowly getting older, wiser and more cynical by the day. I'm looking forward to being one of the old guys of the bartending scene. Perhaps someone that someday, somebody looks up to. My focus now is to keep staying motivated and yearning to learn and push myself even further still. If you are stuck in a rut in your respective venue, get yourself out of it. Go see what other bars are doing and take that motivation to your colleagues. Keep improving things in your bar day by day and before you know it the one-percenters will all add up. Always look forward and striving to keep improving yourself and your trade. But most of all respect and be happy for your friends achievements. Their happiness should be as important as your own.

Maybe this post was a bit 'Oprah-like'. I'm sorry if I sound like a life-loving preacher but I'm in one of those moods. A mood mixed with lashings of pride, several ounces of reminiscing, and a few drops of home sickness. Melbourne -and my friends in it- I'll see you soon.


Oh and Black Pearl guys. Ah, by the way, Do I still get staff discount on drinks?? x

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Not for human consumption

I've said it once, and ill say it again. "I'm no snob when it comes to alcohol". I'm not, ill drink anything. To an extent. In my formative years i was known to take a bottle of cooking sherry to house parties. My first drunkening, at the age of fifteen, which also coincided with the last time i urinated all over myself, was induced by blue curacao & lemonade. (A personal favourite that i continued to drink up until eighteen). I've drank ouzo & coke UDL's from a beer bong, snakebites from someone else's plimsoll, snorted tequila, Manhattans from cans, ready-made TGIF long island ice tea mix, and perhaps worst of them all, Woodford Reserve's Sonoma Curtrer expression. Yuck!

However like i said, I'm more than willing to try almost anything once. And believe me, in the United States there's a lot to try. So here's my top-five guide to the worst things to drink when Stateside.

5. Southern Comfort Lime

Oh Southern Comfort, how i lavished thee with thy lips through out many a underage gathering. Mixed with Orange Juice i still believe thee to be a tasty, refreshing beverage. But LIME? Come on!? Here's my tasting notes. Open up to scents of synthetic, medicinal, liquor. Tastes initially of lime cordial, which lingers onto notes of dish water and whisky. Perhaps could be used as a industrial strength fridge cleaner. IE: Not for human consumption.

4. Miller Genuine Draft 64

There's something about generic American beer that is different to most other countries generic lagers. It could be the high amount of corn syrup added, or it could even be the fact they don't actually taste of beer. Oh, wait i second i know what it is. There is no goddam' alcohol in them! America's -and I'm sure Australia's- fascination with creating Metrosexual beers has become so rampant that's its not just the slick-haired, skinny jean brigade knocking them back, but the whole beer-drinking population. Homeless people, fathers, mothers, and hipsters alike all drink mostly beers without a alcohol statement on them, all badged with the words 'low Calorie' and 'Light.' Even the already insipid Corona gets the 'Light' treatment. The worst of these offenders however, is MGD 64. Only 64 calories per bottle! No alcohol statement means: No alcohol. Sorry.

3. Pickelback

For the uninformed, a pickleback is a shot of Jameson's, followed by a shot of pickle brine or 'juice'. I'm not joking when i say that there ARE actually people who enjoying drinking the world's most tasteless whiskey with a glass on a preservative, briny, vinegar. Now to make things worse the good people at Jameson have also released a statement condoning this practice saying, "Jameson's smooth taste complements the bitterness of the pickle juice nicely." How can this company possibly hold their product in such contempt by promoting this? This reminds me of a certain rum company years ago who were trying to get punters to eat a lime wedge dipped in ground coffee after a shot. People did it for a couple of weeks before finally realising it tasted like ass, and the remnants of coffee grinding stay in your teeth all night.

2. Strawberry Acai Smirnoff Ice

Did you know why no one had ever heard to the Acai berry before a couple of years ago? It's because its crap. I'll let you in on a little secret. Anytime you see a bartender create a drink with a exotic berry or fruit not normally found in drinks, chances are the fruit is not going to taste very nice. Anyone for Dragon fruit Mojitos, or Star Fruit Cobblers? All the good fruits have already been found and are already being used. This includes the Acai berry. The good people in Belize and Peru must be laughing their ass off that they can off load so much of this stuff up north. This native berry found in Central and South America is tasteless, cheap, and a major food source to many natives. Rumours have been spread in the last decade of it being a weight loss supplement and also adding virility to limp men. None of these claims have been proven.

Now I've written in the past for my fondness of pre-mix alcopops. In the right hands of adults these things can be a great way of pranking friends, and providing refreshment at festivals. However, this one has got to be the worst of them all. Think fizzy yogurt. On the bright side after drinking, because of the sugar levels, you can spit down to your toes and suck it back up.

1. Foster's

Last but not least I'm going to finish on Australia's greatest export outside of the Bee Gee's and Savage Garden. Surprise, surprise the only Australian beer found commonly over here is Fosters, not only Fosters, but Fosters in a can the size of my head. You know what, I'm sort of OK with the whole just having Foster's as the only Australian beer found commonly abroad. If I look hard enough for a nice Aussie brew I can still find a bottle shop where i can get Cooper's, or Boags. Its merely the backwards way our countries products continue to market themselves abroad. Yes, i am Australian. NO, Paul Hogan is not the President of Australia. NO, I do not ONLY drink beer from vessels the size of paint cans.

Now, i could go on forever. Like i said there's a lot to choose from over here. Special mentions go out to 'Colt 45' 40 oz Malt Liquor, Ed Hardy 'Premium' Lager, and Danny De Vito's Limoncello, for all being appalling.

America, I love you. There's so much of you I'm going to miss. I hate to dwell on the negatives, but the future awaits, and with it a day where I caress you with compliments. For now though, I have to get over this stinking hangover, all thanks to the aforementioned products above..

Now where's my organic, coconut and pomegranate water?


Saturday, September 4, 2010


So about three or so years ago I was the Australian ambassador for Smirnoff no.55. It was a good year of my life. I travelled the country running competitions for the brand, and did training sessions for bartenders in bars that didn't know how to spell 'Vodcar'. Meanwhile Diageo paid my rent.

I ended up getting sent to China to do a series of parties for them in Chengdu. It was my first trip abroad and an experience i will never forget. Mostly for negative reasons i'm afraid. During that time i kept a travel diary, for myself mainly, to reminisce on later. Well, i re-read it today and some of it is pretty funny. I've decided to pull an extract out of it today and post it for any of you that care. This was just a ordinary couple of days in the life of my time in China's fifth biggest city. Enjoy..

Sat 9.12.07. Day 4 1:23pm

Apparently my drunkenness caused a bit of a stir the other night. Jody, the advertising lady was told off for not looking after me and making sure I received adequate care when getting home. She had gone home when I had apparently texted her in the wee hours of morning with a massage that went along the lines of; ‘Jody, I'm drunk and I don’t know how to get home, can you come write my address for me to show taxi man?’ Inevitably I got a lift home with Spikeman. Spikeman, or James, is a New Zealand dude that’s travelling around on this Hummer tour with us who dresses like a Smirnoff transformer and sprays Co2 at the crowd (cool huh!) He’s a pretty cool dude that has been to Chengdu many times and knows his way round the city pretty well. He made a formal complaint to the organisers of the tour and I was politely asked by Jody not to get too drunk at future events. (Booo….).

Last nights event was at a hip hop club called Mix Club. Mix club was a fucking dive and the event blowed. I really don’t think anyone really knows what I'm supposed to be doing. I was told to make Moscow mules for the punters as they walked into the club, then it was my job to walk around to every table in the club and make them a Mule at the table. The problem was the promo girls walking around with me holding the lime (or green lemons as they call them), ginger beer etc weren’t explaining to the crowd what was going on. So people were just sculling the drinks without caring what was in them, and to make matters worse I was stone cold sober. By the end of the night the person running the show told me I had to get drunk every night with the customers as I work a lot better that way, and Jody needs to take better care of me. (Sorry about that Liver..)

On a lighter note a really hot chick tried to pick me up in the club last night. She was quite forward and I thought things were going well until I was dragged away from her by one of the organisers. Probably a good thing, turns out it was a lady-boy prostitute! (I probably still would of..) And oh yeah, out the front of the clubs I'm working at they have this massive sign with all this Chinese writing, then my name in big print! How cool is that!! As well as that when I got a rickshaw home last night we went past another club I must be going to sometime soon, because they had a big sign out the front with my name on it!! I’m freakin’ famous! At least in Chengdu anyway.

Mix Club (Bar review)

This place really sucks. Bartenders wear stupid white vinyl uniforms and are scared of drinking straight spirits. No one would do a lay back of Smirnoff with me. The d├ęcor resembles the set of a lame hip hop video with mirrored walls, red paint peeling off everywhere and a lame ass DJ booth that overlooks a tiny dancefloor. On the night I was there the music changed from R&B, to repetitive electro-house, to late nineties hip hop and finally to a hi nrg trance set. Its like the club got sent a newsletter of what music is cool is Western countries. Unfortunately it arrived 12 years too late.

The whack thing about this place is the bartenders don’t actually make any drinks. Most punters order bottles from their waiter and the waiter goes out the back to a stockroom to fetch the order. When it comes time to pay the customer goes to another counter (somewhat like a cloak room) and pays their bill there. Meaning the job of the bartender is to keep topping up jugs of ice for the waiters, throwing empty plastic flair bottles around, and interacting with the customers sitting at the bar by throwing some sort of dice game with them. Lame. What’s worse is they are not allowed to flair unless it is ‘showtime’ and they are not allowed to take attention away from the hired dancers. What’s even weirder is that if you want a beer you can only buy them in lots of 6 or 12, and when you by them you get them all at once. None are refrigerated as there isn’t even a fridge behind the bar. Lame, lame, lame.

This club may as well of been called ‘The Windy club’, because half of it sucked, whilst the other half blowed! 4 thumbs DOWN!

DRINK: Nothing!

Tue 11.12.07. Day 7(10:21am)

After a pretty uneventful day off on Sunday we started our Smirnoff Hummer tour yesterday. I meet the advertising kids out the front of my hotel at midday and we drove in the Hummer to an open air shopping plaza near the local university. This is when I’m told I am to make up some jugs of Moscow Mules and pour them into shot glasses so the promo girls can give them to people walking past and tell them about the upcoming Smirnoff parties. As well as this I’m supposed to walk with the girls and act all excited and shit, pumping up the people for the upcoming big parties. Basically they want a crazy, westerner to shout Smirnoff in peoples’ faces. After about 20 minutes at one place we move onto the next place, then the next, then the next. All up I’m pimping my Mules to kids in 7 or 8 places over Chengdu. Every day, 6 days a week!! Then at night we go to 6 or 7 bars and do the same, but at night all the bars have a massive poster out the front telling people ‘TIM PHILLIPS, FAMOUS PROFESSIONAL INTERNATIONAL BARTENDER IS COMING’. So they want me to go behind the bar and make the drink for the people in a cool way. I can really see myself getting sick of making fucking Moscow mules! I finished last night at about 12:30 after a 12 and a half hour day. This is going to go on for another 5 weeks. For now I’m ok, but its only been one full day of work. Lets see how I’m holding up in a couple of weeks. To make matters worse I can feel myself getting tired because I haven’t been eating properly. I’m a fairly studious, 5 veg and 2 fruit a day kind-of-guy and I’m just not eating well over here. I haven’t been ‘full’ yet over here as all the food I order from restaurants or street vendors tastes like ass, and the only thing I can trust is Western-style fast food and bowls of noodles from the supermarket. The other day I say a guy grilling these things that looked like Egg and bacon in some sort of batter. I got one and as soon as I bit into the egg I nearly vomited. It was rotten! Talk about making you never want to eat egg again. Even something like corn, you would think would be fairly hard to fuck up? Apparently not. A guy on the street selling cobs of corn on a stick grabbed my attention, so I purchased one off him and could not even finish my first bite. It’s like he thought to himself, ‘lets see, how can I make this corn really bad?. Lets steam it for 21 hours, add no seasoning and somehow give it a plastic-like texture’. On the plus side I’m told there is a shopping centre near that sells some western style food like jam, and milk etc, so I’m gunna’ go check that out when I get a chance. I really miss basic things like butter and cheese, not too mention the fact customs took my vegemite when I came into Honk Kong. Cunts..

However I don’t want to finish this post in a negative way. One of the things I am enjoying over here is how cheap my video games arcade is. The place is called Tom’s World and it’s huge! For 20Y (A$3), I can play 20-25 games! Awesome. I was on the ‘Point Blank’ machine for two hours on my day off. Maybe this week ill invest 5 bucks in learning how to dance on one of those fast paced dancing games. I saw this dude getting his jig-on on one those bad boys. He was like the Asian Michael Flatly! *Note to self* I want to be like Asian Michael Flatly..