Winner: Evan Stroeve, Bulletin Place
He didn’t know it at the time, but Evan Stroeve’s arrival in Sydney in 2012 coincided with the cresting of a renaissance of bar culture. The city’s nascent small bar scene was building steam, and answering an online callout for barbacks landed Stroeve a job at the one and only Shady Pines Saloon, a game-changing venue for Sydney’s nightlife, from the hidden entrance in a scungy Darlinghurst alley to the monkey nut shells that littering the floor of the Western-themed bolthole.
It would also prove to be a game-changing job for Stroeve, who was studying journalism and politics at the time. “I didn’t treat it [hospitality] as a prospective career… but I fell in love with it because of the people I worked with there. I got coerced to the dark side,” he says. “When you’re just working in a pub you don’t realise how much knowledge and skill and passion goes into forming a career. The first time I saw that was at Shady Pines and I made it my top priority to get promoted to bartender.”
It took Stroeve ten months of hard graft to go from glassie to bartender, and then several years paying his dues at Frankie’s Pizza by the Slice, the Baxter Inn and Hubert before he would return triumphant as the bar manager of his alma mater – where he had once swept peanuts, he was now calling the (rye) shots.
But the biggest graduation was slated for May 2018, when Stroeve took on the bar manager role at Bulletin Place. This is the bar where the terms “set and forget” have no meaning, because six days a week they’re sporting a brand spanking new cocktail menu, and it’s up to the creative engines of Stroeve and his team to keep coming up with the high-proof goods.
“It affords me unlimited creative licence, especially since we try not to recreate anything.” Multiply that by six years and there’s a veritable goldmine of cocktail recipes on a hard drive somewhere.
Making people feel like they belong is Stroeve’s super power. The force of his sincere welcome earned him fans when he was manning the juicer at Shady, but it has been given laser-like focus within the confined space of Bulletin Place. Here you are catered to, but never hovered over, and he has a knack for being able to tell which customers just want a fruit Daiquiri and those who want the full backstory of the pear wine they make on site. Do you want to get into the nitty gritty of kombucha production or infusions? Stroeve is your guy, and even if you didn’t think you cared about fermentation, his genuine enthusiasm for the science of deliciousness is contagious. Add that to enviable skill behind a Toby tin and a discerning palate, and Bulletin’s legacy as the city’s most dynamic cocktail bar is in very good hands