Behind the scenes on the first full menu re-write at The Ghost of Alfred Felton at The Espy in St Kilda.
St Kilda’s Hotel Esplanade — perhaps better known as The Espy — is one of Melbourne’s storied pubs. It’s got a rich 140-year plus history, and was reopened in 2018 by Melbourne hospitality group, Sand Hill Road.
It’s a venue I had the pleasure of touring when it re-opened a few years back: it’s epic in scale, with several bars, a massive capacity, with different restaurants, live music spaces, and even a podcast recording studio within.
It also reopened with a neat little cocktail bar on the top floor: The Ghost of Alfred Felton. Named for one of the hotel’s long term residents in years past, it’s a space far removed from the big, expansive space downstairs.
The bar has also just debuted a new cocktail list — it’s first complete re-write since they re-opened — and to find out more about what makes the list tick I spoke to Nick Selvadurai, the veteran Melbourne bartender and ex-brand amabassador who is now Sand Hill Road’s group bars manager.
For those who don’t know the place, what’s the big idea behind The Ghost of Alfred Felton?
The idea behind the Ghost was to create a “hidden” and more exclusive space inside The Espy that pays homage to the earlier history of the building and one of [its] more influential residents, Alfred Felton. With a vaster back bar offer, interesting signature cocktails and bartenders equipped with classic cocktail knowledge, we endeavour to bring a sanctuary for those seeking a more refined experience on the top floor of The Espy.
What’s the idea behind your latest menu?
This list is the first complete rewrite since the opening of the venue and has been developed to highlight three of Alfred Felton’s pursuits. Pharmacist, Voyager, and Art Collector —echoed in the spaces up at The Ghost. I’m most excited about the Art Collector section where we have drinks inspired from specific artworks. Themes aside, this is also a collection of cocktails versatile enough to have something for everyone, no matter where they are in their night (aperitivo, after dinner, pre-show, etc., etc.)
Tell us about the Tierra Del Fuego cocktail — what makes it special?
The Tierra Del Fuego is definitely one of my favourites. I love classically formulated cocktails that allow the spirit to do a lot of the talking (think Japanese Cocktail). Alex brought this drink in as a “spicy marg” alternative that wasn’t capsaicin spicy, but about the trigeminal sensation of ginger. The beautifully complimentary spicy flavours of ginger, pear and cardamom play along so well with the bright Herradura Plata which is then finished off with a ground cardamom salt lick on the glass. It smells amazing, the texture and balance are bang on. It’s a cocktail that gives all that you want from it.
How long did this menu take to develop — can you outline the process?
Back in February this year, I charged Ghost bar manager, Alex Gnyp, with building the concepts for this list. Once the themes were nailed down we started to build out the flavour concepts of the drinks — this part tends to go both ways, drink-led and theme-led. Sometimes we have a drink concept that we want to bring to life (ie the “Taste of Home” where the drink looks like a cup of tea) others we are building a drink around a theme, like with the artwork inspired drinks of the Art Collector section. There always needs to be a bit of fluidity at this part of the process, no bad ideas, if something doesn’t work this time around, we may take another run at it with the next list — or develop for one of the other venues. Once drink concepts are formulated the specifics are developed (how much of what, basically) and the drinks go through a tasting panel of our operations team. A few minor tweaks later to bring scale, batching, presentation and, of course, COGs to where they need to be and we have our list ready to roll [after] four months in the making.
The drink illustrations look ace. Why did you choose to design the menu the way you did?
We wanted to have something that drew inspiration from old lithographic pharmaceutical catalogues of the early 1900s. It does however also help us to express what the cocktails look like. The visual appeal of a drink is part of what sells it, this way our guests can more easily make their decision if they are looking for a particular style of drink or something they have seen before (or following a recommendation: “you have to try the cocktail that’s served in flute.”)
What’s your role with the group — what do you do day in and day out as a group bars manager?
Although it’s a fairly large role, it can be boiled down to three main concepts: cocktails, training, and ranging. Developing cocktail lists for the nine venues (11 separate lists including Mya Tiger, Tippy Tay and The Ghost) is a lot of fun, and I prefer to work closely with the bar managers [and] supervisors wherever I can as an opportunity to develop their abilities. Training is, without a doubt, the most fulfilling part. Teaching the basics of guest hospitality over customer service and seeing how the next generation of bartenders are absorbing the knowledge that we give them is an encouraging and enriching endeavour. Then, I’m the “rep filter” for the operations team calling on the few years of experience as one myself to best navigate the commercial side of the spirits industry.