Melbourne’s Bartender of the Year

Alcohol, Bars, DrinksLeave a Comment


Joe Jones of Romeo Lane has been crowned the 2017 Bartender of the Year at the recent Time Out Melbourne Bar Awards.

And for those playing at home, Romeo Lane also won Best Cocktail Bar.

For someone in his late twenties, Jones is shaking and stirring the Melbourne bar scene. A chef by trade, when he started Romeo Lane he and his business partners weren’t trying to be particularly revolutionary, they simply wanted to create a “nice cocktail bar”.

“There wasn’t really one in the city at that point in time that was as intimate and alluring as what we had in mind,” elaborates Jones.

“A lot of what was happening in the bar scene at that time seemed to be all about looser ‘party’ style bars, which are fun sometimes, but not all the time.

“My business partner Rita Ambroz and I both used to work in a higher volume, louder bar where the clientele wasn’t always very civilized. We wanted to do something that would expose us and our particular style to a more composed group of customers that would appreciate the detail and service.

“This is part of why we chose to do more formal table service. In saying that, it is still approachable with a more European, old-time aesthetic,” says Jones.

Jones describes Romeo Lane as a “super dark, sexy, little romantic room that you can just melt into and have a nice time in and be taken care of.”

Because of his background as a chef, Jones’ initial exposure to bartenders and the drinking culture in general was through restaurants. Eventually, he decided to make the leap from the kitchen to behind the bar.

Jones says that both the awards from Time Out are exciting for the team at Romeo Lane.

“It’s nice to be thought of! Everyone works really hard so it was cool to see that recognised and we all feel really proud of the Best Cocktail Bar award. It’s been a really difficult, testing year at work for everyone concerned, but in spite of some pretty big hurdles, we always tried to maintain the standard of what we were serving and trying to achieve.

“On a personal level, the Bartender of the Year award was an awesome thing to be presented with and it’s just a great motivation to keep on pushing and trying to get better and better.

“One of my best buds, David Molyneux was nominated as well, who’s one of my favourite bartenders, and I think I would have been just as happy if he had won,” Jones says humbly.

This commitment to a high standard is displayed through Jones’ willingness to use “the right booze for the right job”, regardless of brand, price or prestige.

While he concedes they have a few staple products that he finds versatile to use in many different ways, he normally favours whatever makes the best version of the drink in question.

The drinks menu at Romeo Lane changes monthly and Jones explains that it tends to reflect what they have been enjoying drinking themselves. Having said that, he tries to ensure there is something for everyone!

“We keep ourselves interested by doing a lot of off-menu cocktails and bartender’s choice, which is much more stimulating than sticking to a menu for a month,” adds Jones.

Consequently, the most popular drink on the menu varies with the clientele, weather, time of day and what is in demand at the time.

“It’s summer now, so a lot of tall and refreshing or short and sharp drinks are going out,” says Jones.

“When it cools down a lot of people go for richer, stirred and boozy options, which is just fine by me. Aside from all that, we sell a lot of classic cocktails. Oh, and we don’t mind selling a few Dark ‘n Stormy’s!”

So, when it comes down to it, what does Jones feel made them the winners this year? Among many things, it is the staff.

“The staff genuinely care about the quality of everything, the customers and whether you’re having a good time or not. The standard we work to is quite high and there’s not heaps of that around in the CBD.”

With a couple of other bar ventures set to launch in 2017, Joe Jones is undoubtedly one to have a drink with and keep an eye on!

1 Crossley St,
Melbourne VIC 3000

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