Sydney cocktail-lovers, here's some news to raise a glass to. Two of the nation's finest bartenders, Luke Ashton (late of Vasco) and Charlie Ainsbury (latterly a frontman at Eau de Vie), have joined forces like a cocktail bartending Voltron to give the local drinks scene a serious shake and stir. This Must be the Place opens on Oxford Street on Wednesday, February 18, and with so much skill behind the bar (both Ashton and Ainsbury have represented Australia in the Diageo World Class international finals, so having both under one roof is almost unfair) there's plenty to look forward to. Here's the inside scoop.
There are two parts to the formula
While the main bar, on the first floor of the Oxford Street space, is being fitted out, a pop-up bar will open on ground level. This temporary space may become a permanent fixture, but for now it's a Spritz bar, specialising in more the white-wine kind than the Italian Aperol or Campari variety.
Cocktails are king
Expect to see drinks made from the likes of "lengthened cold-pressed juices or house-made sodas with seasonal shrubs and syrups," Ashton says. That could be The Emerald City, which combines lime, white vermouth, gin and pineapple, or something as outré as the Rose Gold, which gives rosé a twist with quinquina liqueur and grapefruit oil. There'll be one or two cocktails on tap, a rotating craft beer, and a "base wine macerated with seasonal fruits and herbs" fortified with a shot of a spirit, liqueur or apéritif. Classic drinks will be available in variations "to encourage devotees of the Negroni, for example, to try all the delicious half-children they gave birth to". There'll be food, but not a lot of it to start.
They want you to feel comfortable
The pair want to create a space and a style of service that's "professional but casual, caring and sincere" - a bar that's as easy to walk into as a café. "A place to drop into for a quick drink on the way home," says Ashton, "or somewhere to while away the evening with friends." The design, Ainsbury says, is plywood, matte black, white, teal and metal surfaces with a concrete floor and touches of reclaimed timber.
They're leaning green
"We'll be looking to use as many whole ingredients as possible to minimise waste," Ashton says. The aim, he tells us, is for the bar to have "an environmental and social conscience". They plan to achieve this through simple efforts: using surplus lemon peel for house-made syrups and lemonade, say, or crafting their own sodas and cold-pressed juices, and making sure all waste is composted where possible. "Nothing major," says Ainsbury. "We just have to be more aware of what we're throwing away."
This Must be the Place, 239 Oxford St, Darlinghurst, NSW
This article was updated in February, 2015.