You’ll love or hate the name, which riffs on the idea of having “a whale of a time”. But either way, you’re going to remember it. At least that’s what Robbie Alexander and Louise Astell hoped when they opened a bar on High Street, Prahran and called it Whaler.
Alexander is a graphic-design graduate and long-term hospitality buff who just couldn’t shake the “bad habit” of bartending. His brain was telling him to seek another profession, but his heart kept drawing him back. He wanted a space like those he discovered overseas – where the bartender knows your favourite cocktail and the staff remembers your dog’s name.
Bar manager Callum Davies is the right person for the job. He’s spent time at Madame Brussels and Carlton Club and has 120 cocktails committed to memory. He and Alexander worked together to create Whaler’s 10 house cocktails. So far, the most popular is The Blacker the Berry, a Boulevardier of Campari, whisky and blackberry-infused sweet vermouth. The Last Ward is a twist on the classic Last Word, keeping the Green Chartreuse, maraschino and lime but swapping the tequila for gin, and serving it with a purple violet. Aussie brews on tap include Two Brothers, Young Henrys and Sample.
Head chef Henry Leigh-Smith is cooking Southern food with a twist.
“This area already has so many burger bars, so we decided to start by focusing on the influx of Southern American cuisine in the area and serve dishes with a fresh take,” Alexander says.
For snacks, there’s pea and pomegranate guacamole with black-corn tortilla chips; and pickled-cucumber chips with buffalo sauce. Bigger feeds include 12-hour pork ribs with apple and fennel slaw and fried chicken with chipotle slaw and blue-cheese sauce.
Alexander’s father Don helped with the build, which riffs on bohemian 1960s New York. Cerulean timber panels line a portion of the walls and beige bricks cover the rest. These two textures and high ceilings give the space a Brooklyn loft feel. Native flora on each table adds a touch of Australia.
“During construction locals and members of the neighbourhood would walk past and poke their heads in,” Alexander says. “Almost all of them we have seen in here since we opened and have become some of our locals, which was the main goal for Whaler.”
There is a variety of seating options throughout: intimate booths at the back, a dining set in the back room for formal occasions, stools and high tables for couples, and a standing bar for larger groups to mingle at. A booth by the entrance is for local DJs, who bring their own records or use the bar’s collection.
71 High Street, Prahran
Wed & Thu 3pm–11pm
Fri to Sun: 12pm–11pm
This story was updated to include the name of co-owner Louise Astell at 2.15pm on April 13, 2018.