We meet Rich Sommer and Sam Ross inside Bar Schweppes, beyond the manicured spring lawns and ethereal rose walkways at Flemington Racecourse. It’s Media day in the Birdcage, so it takes some time to ascend through the madness and into Bar Schweppes, which is typically understated with bright white timber walls and spritsy looking soda bottles on the shelves. Inside, there’s a refreshingly tranquil conversation happening between the Mad Men star and his favourite bartender, who are, oblivious to the watching crowd, discussing the attitude of bartenders in New York City.

“The whole idea of the bartender got a little convoluted and lost,” we hear Sam Ross say, gazing across the marble bench top towards Sommer. “The idea of making the perfect drink is one thing, and an important thing, but it’s also about making sure the clients are happy.”

Designed in collaboration with The Company You Keep and Therefore Studio, there’s a slightly different feel the Bar Schweppes this year. This time last October, we were bemoaning the fact that it was only here for four days. Today, we welcome another year with seven-piece brass band The Horns of Leroy on the balcony, and introduce an eclectic food and drink offering from some of Melbourne’s most well respected bars and restaurants.

On food, there are zesty sausages and assorted meats from Bluebonnet Barbecue, lobster mac ‘n’ cheese from Meatmaiden, Texan burnt ends sandwiches from Meatmother and Texas chilli cheese fries from Le Bon Ton. It’s a rich and hearty menu, with some acidic, sweet sides, like Schweppes Oysters Lemonade. The cocktail menu is infinitely malleable but drafted to refresh, with cocktails from Seamstress, Black Pearl, Le Bon Ton, and Whisky & Alement.

On Saturday, Ross will work his way behind the bar for a special appearance, opposed (of course) by his friend Rich Sommer. Together, the pair has given the space an intimate and laconic feel, one that feels like you’re talking to a friend over the bar, and escaping the madness of The Melbourne Cup Carnival.