It's no small deal for bar fans: four bartenders past and present from Fitzroy's ridiculously decorated Black Pearl cocktail bar going solo with their own venue.
The bar will be called Fancy Free, the location will be the CBD (a lease is yet to be signed) and unlike the Pearl – known to many as the Black Hole for reliably being open to party until 3am nightly – the plan is to open longer, from lunch, rather than later.
The big news is the bartenders haven't just done a stage behind the Pearl's plank. They are crew who have over the years been instrumental in winning its numerous local and international awards including Best Bar Team, and Best International Cocktail Bar at the Spirited Awards in New Orleans (on par with the World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards in industry recognition).
Chris Hysted was aboard the good ship from the early days, departing for a short stint to work at a brand ambassador for Ketel One. Matt Stirling is the departing manager. Rob Libecans, past manager, has spent the past five years helping build the internationally acclaimed White Lyan in London, pioneer of apocalypse-ready cocktails requiring no fresh citrus or ice. Ryan Noreiks did a year at Pearl, and previously did six years at Brisbane's Lark. They are the A-team.
What to actually expect? Not White Lyan nor the Pearl, but lessons from both. Libecans says they'll be challenging suppliers on sustainability – gin will arrive glassless, in large vats. A huge focus will be on collaborations with producers and they're going deep, getting involved in the production of everything in the bar from the beers, wines, food and spirits down to the hand soap in the bathrooms.
Because of the plan to open by day, cocktails won't be the be-all and end-all. Stirling says "having different operating hours gives us the opportunity to treat those occasions differently. The 'right drink for the right time' will guide what we offer."
Pop-ups around the country are planned to road test some of the ideas and establish the bar team's sideline event business.
First up, they will be doing drinks at The Den in Hobart over the same weekend as Dark Mofo. The menu is a series of symbols stamped on your arm as you enter and none of them could be boxed into a genre. The Continental features croissant syrup, cognac and fino; the Karis Highball unties Scotch and pandan syrup. All ahead for Fancy Free times.
Fancy Free tour dates
June 15-16 – The Den, Hobart
July 6-7 – Saville Row, Brisbane
July 13-14 – Mary's Newtown, Sydney
Late July – Ramblr, Melbourne