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Mary White, Lobo Plantation
Photograph: Supplied/My Media Sydney

Bartender of the Year: Time Out Bar Awards 2020

To be a jack of all trades is easy. To master them all? That’s something else

Written by
David Matthews

Winner: Mary White, The Lobo Plantation

When Mary White first landed in Christchurch fresh out of college in North Carolina, working in bars was a side hustle. By the time she came to Sydney two years later, that hustle had become a fully fledged obsession. White recalls drawing up a list of Sydney venues she considered worth her time: one of these, she resolved, or she was heading home.

Palmer and Co was one, and White landed a gig there on the back of the skills she’d honed on her travels. Just six months later, Paige Aubort got in touch about Lobo Plantation, the rum bar that leaves others sprawled on a dusty back road in Barbados. Cut to today and White has more than four years on the clock at Lobo – one and a half as GM. 

Step inside the Cuban-styled space complete with rattan chairs and jungle prints, and if White’s not shaking two tins behind the bar, she’ll be running the floor with consummate ease. Express an interest in the 300-deep rum list, and she’ll delve into it with the passion of someone who’s learnt their product through years of tasting and teaching. She’s not going to show off about it, but if you want to get into the nuances of Martinican, Jamaican, or – heck – even Mexican rum, there’s no better guide. Ask for a classic, and she’ll stir it down quick, no sweat, then light up the butane torch to give the signature Old Grogram its toasted cinnamon finish. 

It’s not all fire and ice. White’s a manager who knows she’s only as strong as the team she runs, and that good service is as much about keeping water glasses filled as it is the technical stuff. But for her, more than anything, it’s about people. “It can be about skill and cocktails and all that,” she says, “but at the end of the day, it really is about connecting with that person coming in and making sure they have the best time – just making sure they’re really comfortable and understanding where they’re coming from. That’s hospitality in a nutshell.”

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