Australia’s bar scene is hot. We’ve got drinking dens making World’s Best lists year on year and, most importantly, we’re all busy sipping around our cities.

In Sydney, there are joints for classic cocktails done well and those that are a little more experimental. A place devoted to the Martini? We’ve got it, plus a whisky-fuelled underground saloon. There’s a moody Negroni house and a vermouth haven in the mix, too. So, it stands to reason that one of our own – Jake Down – has taken out top spot in this year’s World Class Bartender of the Year Australia awards.

“It’s probably the biggest competition for our industry,” Down, who leads the drinks roster at Newtown’s Pleasure Club, tells Broadsheet. “When you make drinks and give hospitality for a living, hopefully that translates. These awards are really nice.”

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In the 15th year of the competition, Down (ex-Re, House Made Hospitality, Scout) took on Merivale’s James Irvine, Matt Bodycote (State Buildings, Perth), Rohan Massie of Hobart’s Rude Boy, Shirley Yeung (Foxtrot Hospitality Group, Perth) and Tom Opie of The Waratah.

His workplace is the psychedelic venue from Odd Culture that melds performance space and cocktail bar. The drinks menu has been created seriously but delivers something playful. Take the Martini-style Chicken Parm, which contains distillates of both cheese and bread joining bacon-fat vodka and chicken salt, and comes topped with a skewered pickle. Or Passion Pop, the goon-adjacent creation with passionfruit marigold, yuzushu and lemon myrtle Campari.

At yesterday’s competition, judges noticed him for his quick execution of a trio of Espresso Martinis (plus a Margarita, Toronto and Mint Julep) in six minutes flat. “I’ve just made so many in my life, it came naturally,” he laughs. “I didn’t even have to think about it.”

His favourite of the day was a cocktail based on El Primo Sanchez that was garnished with a taco. “It was Johnnie Walker, a bit of coriander, pineapple and a fresh taco as a garnish. I even bought a sandwich press,” he says.

“You practice for so long – weeks and hours trying to dial in your presentation and your drinks. I was really proud of what I put up.”

Down’s got the next few months to put in the practice hours before heading to Shanghai for the international finals in September. “There’s some adrenaline and excitement, [but I’m] proud to represent Australia.”

The Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year 2024 Global Finals take place in Shanghai from September 9 to 14, 2024.