The United States is a long way to go for bourbon and a barbeque, but Ryan Lane has clocked up thousands of air miles travelling to Kentucky for a regular hit of its Southern hospitality. “I’ve been there five times in the last three years,” Lane says. “I love Kentucky, I love America. Being a massive bourbon enthusiast, I got married at my favourite bourbon distillery.
“I’m not a Kentuckian but [the Southern hospitality] is [in] the way they address people … everything is fun and they are so inviting.”
It’s a feeling Lane and business partner and chef Michael Cameron want to bring to Proof BBQ & Booze, which opened in Windsor on Wednesday. “The whole idea is to build a modern barbeque version of Cheers, the old TV show,” Lane says.
His nod to the 1980s American sitcom says a lot about the type of place Lane is looking to run. “I’ve always wanted to do a great little locals bar, and when I moved into the area I found you really have to go back to the city or the Valley,” Lane says.
“If I end up with the same 20 people sitting at this bar every day … that’s perfect. It’s all about the community feel for me.”
It has moved into the former premises of Harry’s Diner, but the old cafe’s iconic car park spot is virtually unrecognisable. The rockabilly character has been erased, replaced with classic Bentwood chairs and warm timber. Leather bucket bar stools are intended for settling into, and the generously proportioned bar is a testament to Lane’s many years working in some of the city’s best boozers – most notably The Gresham, which he managed for six years.
Lane has created a space that lends itself to eating at the bar because, the way he sees it, Proof is no restaurant. “When you call yourself a restaurant people judge you as a restaurant,” he says. “What we are is a barbeque joint. It is a super casual, fun, relaxed atmosphere.
“The beauty is the way the kitchen pass is built. It comes all the way to the bar, so your bartender is going to be looking after you: ‘I’m your bartender, I’m serving you your drinks, your food, your snacks’.”
In true Kentucky style, “food, drink and snacks” means hard-to-find whiskey and craft beer helping down a bunch of Southern staples: smoked meats, shrimp grits, burnt-end chilli beans and mac’n’cheese. “Pitmaster” Cameron is smoking all his meats on-site using ironbark and fruit woods. The menu includes beef brisket, beef short rib, half and full racks of pork ribs, and half-chickens served with Alabama sauce. Vegetarian options include salads, a portobello-mushroom burger and watermelon ham.
It’s American fare that, while half a world away from Louisville, goes hand in hand with the Australian lifestyle. “Barbeque really works in Australia because we are such a barbie kind of culture,” he says. “American barbeque just takes it to another level – it’s primal and it’s fucking tasty.”
Proof BBQ & Booze
14/104 Newmarket Road, Windsor
Wed to Sun 11am–late