Winner: Earl's Juke Joint
Get this: of the 14 lasses and lads on the payroll at Earl’s Juke Joint, 12 have worked there for more than two years. Ten of those 12 started as barbacks, including endlessly charming general manager Dale Schoon, the longest-serving member of the pack, who’s clocking in at just shy of six years. Simply put, there’s just something about the place that makes you want to stick around.
You’ll begin to understand the moment you walk through the door. Even in the throes of a frenzied Friday night, this dedicated cast of characters will all look up from whatever task they’re tackling and greet you with a bellow of Hello! Welcome! G’day! and How ya going! that’s even more enthusiastic than the chorus of Irasshaimase! that comes your way when you set foot in a Japanese izakaya. Sounds basic enough, but it’s surprising just how many bars miss that simple opportunity to nail the first impression.
The Juke Joint is not a newcomer or a stranger to Time Out Bar Awards (or even this very award, for that matter), but there’s an eagerness to serve behind that lengthy mahogany bar, along with a kind, earnest and inclusive brand of Inner West hospitality that’s just impossible to ignore. Put this talented bunch through their paces; you’ll find there’s no classic they can’t conquer, no recipe too perplexing and a suggestion or three for whatever you tell them you feel like. A perfectly crafted cocktail here comes with eye contact, a can-do attitude and a neatly placed serviette. Your water glass is regularly topped up, and your bowl of nuts stays full. And that’s always the case, no matter who’s on duty.
Stripped of the frippery, tending bar doesn’t amount to a whole lot more than a quick, simple transaction. They don’t pretend it’s anything more than that at Earl’s and they never have, but they all go to great lengths to ensure that every exchange is a memorable one. That’s the mark of a great bar team – and the gang at Earl’s has never been anything less – but they’re more capable and cohesive now than ever before, a team at the height of their powers. Bow down.