Rockpool Bar & Grill, Spice Temple and Sake have long been counted among the best restaurants in Sydney. So when the group behind those venues, Hunter St Hospitality, announced it would be opening its first standalone bar, Alice, expectations were high for a drinks list that would sit comfortably with some of the city’s best. When Alice opened in a Rocks basement a few weeks back, it didn’t disappoint: the plush 65-seater offers a series of creations involving a little theatre (smoke, nitro), and a lot of great flavours. The Glass Arm Eddie, for example, riffs on the classic Martini with malic acid offering balance, while the quirky Lunchbox Milk Punch is made with Nippy’s iced banana milk alongside pisco and makrut lime syrup.

They’re all the work of Steve McDermott, who recently joined Hunter St Hospitality in the newly created role of group bar manager. Though he’s spent years working behind bars, including at The Duke of Clarence, his last role was distiller at Hickson House Distilling, making him an all-rounder in the drinks game.

Now that the opening of Alice is out of the way, there’s plenty else keeping him busy. Here’s what to expect from McDermott in his fresh role (including innovative new drinks at some of the city’s top diners).

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What’s your new job title?
I’m the group bar manager at Hunter St Hospitality. I look after the bars across the portfolio of premium venues. A big focus for me will be team training and cocktail menu development.

Why did you decide to move across to Hunter St Hospitality?
I felt the role was perfect for me. As someone who has worked in many different areas of hospitality, and most recently as a distiller at Hickson House Distilling Co, I think this is the perfect opportunity for me to use the skills and experience I’ve built up over the last 25 years.

Do you have any fun plans or ideas for your new role?
Since starting with the group in July my focus has been on the launch of Alice, our new premium cocktail bar in The Rocks. Now that Alice is open, my focus will shift to the other venues in our group, including Rockpool Bar & Grill, Spice Temple and Sake, where I will work with each of the teams to create exciting drinks offerings that really represent the venue and complement the food menu. I also really enjoy training and educating bartenders, so I’m looking forward to helping our bar teams learn new skills and techniques, and introducing them to different styles of drinks.

Will you bring along any drinks or ideas you’re known for or that have been popular at your previous venues?
Most definitely, however I don’t think anyone – [apart from] other bartenders – know me for them. Those who know me or have worked with me will probably recognise a few styles and techniques I like to showcase, otherwise I try to always let the venue get the credit for my work. It’s a great feeling to see something of yours become a signature drink for a venue.

Will we see any cool ideas or drinks that you think will particularly thrill diners?
Absolutely. At Alice we are featuring clarifications, dry-ice cocktails, nitrogen-charged juices, smoked cocktails and much more. We will continue to develop the drinks menu, as well as those at our other venues, to continually include innovative techniques and new ideas.