"I was warned not to tell 80 year old lawyers that they’re mad dogs."
What makes a great bar? It’s not the drinks, and it’s not the decor — although those things are nice to have. A great bar is always made by the people who go there, and the people who work there.A great bar is great people.Few bars epitomise this like Old Mate’s Place in Sydney.
There’s an entire roster of people working there you’d like to share a drink with, and great decor — it’s got a jungle-library vibe going on — and delicious drinks to boot.One of the young guns flying the hospitality flag for Old Mate’s Place is this guy, Andrew McCorquodale.
Here, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, he speaks with us about how he came by the nickname Goober, why he loves the job, and how he’ll be assembling an Ocean Eleven’s of hospitality pros in the future.
How did you get the nickname Goober?
It was at Tio’s. When I first started there, I was 19 or something, and working with all these cats who were much older than me.I would get a bit spicy and run around and in my antics, was just very juvenile. And I think Elsie [Williams] just said what a goober I was.
For people who haven’t been to Old Mate’s Place, what’s it all about?
Old Mate’s is like an experience with the drinks. It’s not that the drinks don’t matter — we strive really hard to make good drinks — but you’re coming in here, you get this gorgeous fitout, you’re getting real good hospitality, you’re getting genuine people you can have a genuine yarn with — you don’t have to come in here with mates because you’ll make mates.
How long has the place been around, and how long have you been a part of it?
We had our second birthday months ago — I missed our second birthday because I took my first Saturday off in two years of working here. I came in the next day and there was a bottle of rye whiskey hanging off the chandelier.
I worked at Tio’s before, that was my second bar job. But I was working at the cinema beforehand in gold class ‚ it was very different. I was bartending there but stepped down to be a barback at Tio’s because there was such a distinction — I was stepping up to pick up people’s trash.I remember some guy asking, could he get a whisky — what do I know about whisky? My whole family is Scottish and they love their whisky. I was just like, I don’t know anything about booze — I would assume that the more expensive one is better. I told this guy that — I’m not even going to lie to you.And then I worked at Tio’s. I remember this guy came to the bar and said I want a tequila. The [bartender] threw down three tequilas, and they tasted them together to figure out which one he wanted. The bartender spouted off all this nonsense about how the tequila was made, the crush, the ferment style — I just thought that was phenomenal.I hadn’t been into there [before] — I didn’t know bars like that existed, because I’d go clubbing. I was drinking out of a teacup — if you know you know.
So how long were you at Tio’s?
Just shy of two years. Then I wanted to step up a bit more, and hone the craft. Corky, one of the guys here, came in and I said I was looking for a job.Within a week I was late for my first shift because they sent me the wrong roster.
What do you like about the job — why do you turn up to work every day?
I think it’s the people. Because everybody has their own sort of avenue down which they approach hospitality, some people focus more on the drinks, the spirits, the knowledge; some people create these exorbitant fit outs for bars and they want to be real smart and nerdy about it. But I think the genuine interaction you make with somebody is the most important part.
You seem to really enjoy talking to people.
Why is that?
My mentality and ethos — and I was taught this back in the day from people that I admire — was that nobody is a customer in your bar, everybody is a guest, they’re in your home. When your mate comes over, what do you? You hug them, you say what’s up, and you say can I grab you a drink?And I think I enjoy having those interactions with people and kind of breaking down that whole stranger element as quickly as possible.
That’s not easy to do.
I think it’s being personable. Because I try to be very genuine with people. I don’t want to be stand-offish, I don’t want to play the cool card — it can be very intimidating going to a bar, especially one you haven’t been to before, you’re in this new space, you enter this door and you’re following directions.But when you enter that door and someone yells out, “My man! Good to see ya!” it feels like I’m this guy’s man — rather than a handshake, you’re getting a high five, you’re gripping them.
But that can be intimidating for some people too, right?
You have to read them. That unfortunately — I’m still working on that myself. In my yearly review I was warned not to tell 80 year old lawyers that they’re mad dogs. It doesn’t always land.
What’s your dream bar?
Banging drinks, banging people, banging experience. Hospitality first, and the thing is, I can make a delicious drinks. My friends around me in the industry, some of the drinks they come up with, are just incredible — take Harrison Kenney down at Cantina OK!. I ask him how he comes up with it, and he just says he stumbled upon it.
He’s a student of the craft, though.
He’s a student of the craft and he won’t admit it. That is somebody who I see as pursuing a drink approach, but you still get an excellent experience with him.But I envision putting together an Ocean’s Eleven team — I’ve got a Clooney, I’ve got a Matt Damon—
Who’s the Clooney, are you the Clooney?
Say no more.
Alright, go on.
I envision putting together a team, everybody is good at their own sort of thing, they bring their own element to the table. I see a bar in the future where I’ve got a guy for drinks, I’d be a more hospitality-forward guy, I’ve got a guy running the numbers and making sure it works out. I’ve got a guy putting together and cultivating an entire visual orientation — the moment you step through the door you’re into a wormhole of wonderland.That’s what I see.I see some of these bars where the fitout is gorgeous and they’ve thrown a ton of money at it, but lacks that personal touch.That’s why I love Old Mate’s. You step in here, you can just spend hours looking at the trinkets on the wall. Like, where did they get that? Why do they have a glass bottle full of Marionette with a glass ship floating in it? Why is that?
Who knows. What’s your favourite drink?
I used to work at Tio’s, I’m a tequila guy: the Toreador. Unfortunately, making all these drinks [at work] I’m not the kind of guy who goes home and makes cocktails. Simple is better — I go home and crack a beer. But when I go out to a cocktail bar, I love seeing everyone’s approach to a Toreador. Apricot brandy, tequila — the inspiration for the Margarita one might say, and an early documented tequila cocktail.