Iconic and award-winning Sydney bar, The Barber Shop recently celebrated its 10th birthday, a significant milestone for any small business, but especially one operating in the challenging world of hospitality.

Not only did the Barrelhouse Group team throw a party fit for such a venue and milestone, but we sat down with co-owner Mike Enright to chat about the bar, how things have changed over the last 10 years – or not as it turns out – and the new ritual of the Martini.

Speaking about whether the founders were thinking this far ahead when they opened the bar, Enright told The Shout: “You always have ambitions for a bar to do whatever it can, some bars don’t last 10 years – let’s face it – and especially from around 2000 to 2008 you just saw a lot of bars coming and going, that were just favoured spots. One would open and that would be busy, another one would open and that would be busy, but now the patronage seems to have flatten out across the board.

“So 10 years is a hell of an achievement.”

As for the keys to the bar’s longevity, Enright said: “The bar hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years, we have the same genre of music playing in the bar. We have mostly the same furniture, we do replenish it and get it recoated, sanded and varnished. But the bar is the same, we have put in more cabinets as we grew the gin range of the years, but other than that not a whole has changed.

“The concept hasn’t changed one bit, and that might be one of the secrets to its success.”

He added: “People are looking for a certain standard and The Barber Shop has it, people know it, they know it’s no risk, it’s easy and one of the things we are drilling into our team at the moment is around that, and it’s all about treat your next customer like it’s your last customer. Bars are opening rapidly in Sydney, it feels like one every week, so we just have to work harder for it.”

As people either go out less, or spend less when they are out, knowing the places that have those high standards and ensuring that your bar continues to deliver those high standards is going to be even more important in maintaining success.

And 10 years on The Barber Shop is still picking up awards, having been named Best Gin Bar at this year’s Australian Liquor Industry Awards in October, Enright said it’s tough to pick out exactly what it is that keeps bringing that kind of success and recognition to the bar.

“You can never pick it, it was lovely to win the ALIA this year because for the last couple of years, as a group, we have been so focused on launching the gin, opening Hickson House that we kind of haven’t really spent much time there. It’s only been in the last three months we’ve started to think about the birthday party, the drinks and what we are going to do about it. But the guys were stoked, and it’s given them a bit of motivation, because it is an old bar, but it’s given them a lift.

“We’ve put some plans into 2024 to spend some money on the bar, and just give it a lot of love, but we’ve always wanted to keep true to the concept and that’s not going to change, if anything we might delve deeper into it.”


That concept for The Barber Shop is the world of gin, and Enright explained that even though the category has changed hugely over the last decade, it has been important to keep the bar true to its concept.

“Craft gin was the rise of the gin category, but also the demise of it, because distilling became more accessible, particularly in the last five years, I think that’s when the real Australian gin boom started. Before then we were importing gin from all over the world. We were buying a lot from The Whisky Exchange in London, a lot from Masters of Malt, there weren’t many boutique gins exporting to Australia back then.

“So, the first five years for us was all about the world of gin, it was about having an Icelandic gin, and Argentinian gin, we were thinking ‘what’s our American selection like’, or the New Zealand selection. We’ve always had a good selection of Jenever as well, that was always a focus for us, it was a key part of what we wanted to do in the bar.”

He went on to say: “The last five years has been more about Australian craft gin, rather than world gin and there’s education there on what is gin, the use of juniper, 37.5 per cent and things like that, there isn’t really major rules for gin, we know that. But the gin awards across Australia and beyond have really helped to properly categorise the styles of gin so we can say that’s a contemporary style or that’s a London Dry, or a classic gin.

“People have been quite inquisitive about Australian botanicals, maybe a bit of an overload at the moment in the gin world. It’s not going to be the key thing that sells your gin. The contemporary category is just like myrtle-bomb central, there’s always some kind of myrtle in there, but there is a lot of really good stuff out there as well and there’s no doubt we are seeing Australian gin just getting better and better and better.

“The bar does still have a big international gin focus, England, Ireland, Scotland a lot from South America and we haven’t gone crazy with Australian gin, but we have enough of it to be banging the drum for it.”


As for the future, it feels like everyone is saying gin is over and it’s now all about Tequila, but for Enright it’s more just that the landscape has changed and listening to him speak, it’s hard not to get excited about what’s coming, especially when he’s talking Martinis.

“The gin boom is like most things, they get big and gin is bigger than it has ever been its almost endless and relentless, but the good ones will survive and some won’t. It’s always going to have its challenges, you’ve got big brands fighting for their space, there’s big Australian brands out there fighting the internationals for house pour, so the landscape has definitely changed.

“But there is still a lot of popularity out there and lots of quality and I think that the Martini is going to help the category.

“Do you think it is possible that the Martini can overtake the Margarita? More and more people are drinking Martinis, and it has become a ritual at business lunch or dinner, where they sit down and have a Martini straight off the bat. It would have been the Negroni before and the Negroni is still popular, but is the Martini going to really hit its straps as being the elegant and pure style of cocktail, versus (dare I say it) a Tequila washed in fake lime juice? .

“The Margarita is huge for sure and it’s still got its time, but will the Martini come creeping up behind it?”

And where will people be drinking those Martinis? There’s a potential bar evolution taking shape in Sydney especially, according to Enright.

“It’s going to be interesting to see where the trend goes with bars, we saw big category bars do well at ALIA, with Lobo, The Barber Shop winning Best Rum and Best Gin Bar and The Baxter Inn winning Best Bar, but I think there’s going to be more hotel-style bars. You’ve got the Waldorf Astoria coming, I was at Capella last week and the bar is amazing, there’s Dean & Nancy, so are those bars going to take a bit more shape in Sydney? They never really have, but will that trend of that American-style hotel bar take shape in Sydney as more five-star hotels get built?

“We know this YCK Laneways area is expanding, Rockpool are going in, there are rumours that the Bentley Group are putting a restaurant in and that Merivale is pretty much taking a whole block and are renovating that, Natalie [Ng] has just opened a new place down the street, so it’s growing.

“We were always starved of food in this area, but you look at what’s coming and it’s looks like this area is going to evolve and I think that’s a good thing. It’s going to bring more people into the area, especially as the 24-Hour Economy is all about creating these precincts, so the State Government are backing it and there’s a lot of training about it all, so I do definitely think it’s going to be a good thing.”

The 10th birthday celebrations have also seen the first bar collaboration for Hickson House Distilling as it teamed up with The Barber Shop for a celebration gin.

“The liquid was done a while ago with the guys from the bar as well, and it’s just a nice birthday gin we have 200 bottles that we’ll sell online, at the Barrelhouse Cellars and obviously at The Barber Shop,” Enright said.

“It was designed for the birthday and it’s basically the first collaboration for Hickson House, which was great, negotiations were pretty easy. The key ingredient was rosemary just because over a lot of our cocktails in the bar we have used rosemary, but it’s another classic-style of gin so there’s juniper, angelica root, coriander seed, macadamia, lemon and rosemary.

“And the bar has been in the classic style with its choice of gin over time as well, so it just made sense to make a classic style of gin, rather than going do the Aussie route with it.”

The Barber Shop is ensconced as a Sydney institution, with over 700 gins from across the globe, open 4pm to 12am Tuesday and Wednesday, 4pm to 1am on Thursday and 4pm to 2am on Friday and Saturday, if you haven’t popped in for a while, go and treat yourself, it really is like catching up with an old friend.

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *