In 2014 Collingwood restaurant Bluebonnet Barbecue was forced to close following a fire. It wasn’t suspicious – the owners even knew the culprit’s name: Loretta. Loretta was the nickname of the restaurant’s smoker, which was used to cook meat overnight.
Bluebonnet found a new home at The North Fitzroy Star, but Loretta’s legacy followed it. It’s now the name of the restaurant’s cocktail bar, headed by World Class bartender Oscar Eastman (formerly of Eau De Vie).
Eastman says initially Loretta’s was intended as a place to relax in while guests waited for a table. But it’s now a scene of its own.
“We have our own regulars,” says Eastman. “They come in, have some food here, a cocktail and a chat. I think a lot of restaurants traditionally consider the bar to be secondary, but we want to have a bar with the same quality and standard as other cocktail bars.”
That approach has driven Eastman to offer a seasonal cocktail menu (try the Democratic Socialite, made with your spirit of choice, such as Bulleit Rye whiskey or Tanqueray no. TEN gin, seasonal shrub and soda). The bar also makes weekly preserves, shrubs, jams, vinegars, liquors and syrups. Loretta’s works with the kitchen – each cocktail can be paired with items from the Bluebonnet menu – but it also stands on its own.
Eastman sees the cocktail bar as another way for diners to enjoy the restaurant. “We’re finding more and more people are booking in at the restaurant, but then sitting here so they can see all the action,” says Eastman. “People also want to have the option to talk with the bartender and have that interaction.”
In other capital cities around the country, this trend is also alive. In Brisbane, Laneway bar sits on top of The Euro and in Adelaide, Ha Bar dwells below The Henry Austin.
In Sydney, tiny Cantonese eatery Fei Jai services the Potts Point cocktail crowd with its adjoining bar, Fei Jai Next Door. When the opportunity to acquire the space came up, the restaurant pounced.
Not only was it a way to expand the restaurant’s kitchen space (it can now accommodate two dumpling chefs), a cocktail bar made sense in an area where there are a lot of great restaurants, but few places to wait for a table.
“Before it closed, we would always send people to get a drink and wait for a table at Lotus bar, across from us,” says Fei Jai owner Peter Lew. “So the whole idea with Fei Jai Next Door is to complement our restaurant and the other restaurants in Potts Point.”
Fei Jai Next Door’s cocktail menu includes drinks like the Smokey Bobby Wang, made with Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch whisky, Lagavulin Scotch whisky, Dom Benedictine liqueur and bitters. The bar also serves little steamed baos, spring rolls and crabcakes. “Really fun, small stuff,” says Lew.
So why did he decide on a dedicated cocktail bar? “A lot of places are wine focused. But cocktails go so well with Chinese food,” Lew says. “I love xiao long baos – personally I’d have that with a Tanqueray Negroni.”
This article is presented in partnership with World Class.