It’s no big deal to meet a bartender who’s also an actor or a would-be singer-songwriter. Bartender-artists are a rarer breed, though, and finding someone active in the arts who is working in a bar not so much as a sideline to support themselves but as a dual profession or indeed another form of artistic expression is a singular experience indeed. It might sound like a lot of high-falutin’ talk when, at the end of the day, we’re talking about hooch, but then Der Raum is no ordinary bar, and painter-cum-bar owner Matthew Bax is no ordinary bottle-jockey.
If you’ll allow us to quote from the Melbourne bar’s seasonal list, a small work of art in itself: "A little shelter from the world of fast, cheap, artificial-tasting drinks, all our cocktails are based on time-tested classics from the golden era of drinking." They don’t use any commercial cordials or syrups, all their juices are hand-pressed daily from the best fruit, and the team scours the globe for spirits.
The range stacks up well against any bar anywhere, and it’s hard to think of anywhere in the country that comes close. That said, there’s no fat in the list; it may be rich in obscure or unusual spirits (many of them exclusive to Der Raum in Australia), but they’re all there for a reason. We like them as much for what they leave out as what they love. Their blacklist includes ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages, post-mix soft-drinks and any cocktail with cream, Red Bull or Malibu.
Since it opened in Richmond in 2001, the bar has been showered with accolades, and named among the world’s best. We like them because they bring the same care and knowledge to making drinks that the best sommeliers bring to selecting wine, but never lose sight of the fact that bars are, after all, all about having a good time. For bucks and blazers, cups, punches, fixes, rickeys, highballs and mules, we make ours Der Raum.
438 Church St, Richmond, Vic, (03) 9428 0055,www.derraum.com.au.
WORDS PAT NOURSE PHOTOGRAPH LISA COHEN