They’ve survived three lockdowns and a one in 180 year flood.
Picture this: you pour hard work into the opening of your very first bar, it takes 14 months just to build the place — hollowing out the basement of a small shop front, and building it back together again; appointing the place with lush banquettes, adorning the walls with knick knacks and ephemera from yesteryear, crafting a beachside speakeasy that is so pretty and well put together that it wins design awards; you craft a menu of cocktails inspired by old place names and history, pull together a show stopping namesake cocktail and call the bar The Cumberland.
It’s a dream come true through perseverance, passion, a love for what you do. And then the doors finally open!
But then, just a few months later, the world closes down because of a virus.
That’s what Pete Ehemann, owner and bartender at The Cumberland in the beachside suburb of Manly in Sydney, experienced opening his first bar. It wouldn’t be the last of the hits he’d need to endure.
When The Cumberland opened late in 2019, it made quite the splash — it represented something different for Manly: a quality cocktail and whisky bar, in a town not known for quality beverages. It was a destination bar — a speakeasy! — in a suburb home to a destination beach.
But hard times were coming.
“So we opened September 2019,” says Pete, “[and] five months after that, obviously, Covid happened. We had three pretty hard lockdowns here, including the Avalon cluster.”
Here’s the thing: the lockdowns weren’t the worst thing to happen to the bar.
“On top of that, we had a pretty crazy freak flood last year as well,” Pete says in the video here. “You know, they say it was like a one in 180 year event.”
Manly dam burst its banks in March 2022, and unleashed a flood on the town that no-one ever envisaged. The Cumberland, located in the basement, was devastated. Water flowed down the same spiral stairs you descend. The staff worked to remove the water until they couldn’t any more, because it became too dangerous. The flood waters got as high as your waist. The water got into everything, damaged everything. The Cumberland was closed from March 2022 all the way until November that year.
The good news is that the bar is open again and busier than ever. Locals flock to the bar throughout the week; on weekends, guests from across Sydney make the journey to The Cumberland. It’s the best reason to visit Manly in the winter — stop into Kurtis Bosley’s Banco around the corner, and you’ve got yourself a perfect night out in Manly.
The reason I suspect that The Cumberland is doing well is that despite the troubles and the challenges, it has a strong identity. The Cumberland is named for the county of Cumberland, which is what the area of Sydney was known as by the Brits in the 1800s.
Ehemann and his bar manager, Petr Dvoracek, studied old outdated maps of the area and Manly Cove, looked up the flora and the industries of the time, and infused that study into a smartly designed and packaged cocktail list — one that does what the best cocktail lists and drink menus always do: it speaks to the bar’s identity, to its reason for being.
It also showcases some very tasty drinks, like the show stopping Cumberland cocktail — you can get that recipe below.
So The Cumberland may have been open just a short time, but they’ve made a mark on the industry already. In that short time, they landed at number 20 on the Boothby Best Bars NSW top 50 back in June this year, and in 2021 won the title of small bar of the year at the Australian Bartender bar awards.
In the video above, Pete tells us about some of the troubles they had in the time they’ve been open, about the work that goes into their mess, and why, when they took the Cumberland cocktail off the menu, they had to put it back on.
The Cumberland Cocktail
- 45ml The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve
- 10ml Pedro Ximinez sherry
- 10ml fresh cherry puree
- 10ml native honey water
- Shake all ingredients with ice.
- Strain into a chilled coupette glass.
- Cover with a cloche and smoke with cherry wood smoke.
Recipe from The Cumberland, Manly.
You can visit The Cumberland for yourself at 17/19 Central Ave, Manly, and follow them on Instagram at @cumberlandmanly.
Thank you to Pete and The Cumberland team for sharing their time and experience, and thanks too to The Glenlivet for sponsoring this video series and making it all possible. You might like to consider The Glenlivet Carribean Reserve for your next whisky cocktail or new menu — contact your Pernod-Ricard representative for more info.
I love The Cumberland — it’s a beautiful space with a thoughtful menu, and a bar that has already seen a lot in the short time it’s been open.
And please, if you’ve got any feedback on this piece — or perhaps you’ve got a new menu on the way? — I’d love to hear from you. You can drop me an email at email@example.com.