‘Make things as functional as possible’: tips on designing your bar

Hayden Lambert Above Board

If you’ve ever worked a newly opened bar on the first day, chances are you’ve done some scrambling around trying to improve your work flow. Sometimes designers miss things — it’s not uncommon to ask where the damn bin is supposed to go — and it can take a while before it feels natural to bartend in the space.

When Hayden Lambert opened his first bar, Above Board, in Melbourne late last year, he wanted to avoid exactly this kind of problem. He’s designed his bar down to the finest of details to suit his style, so we’ve asked him to answer some questions about the finer points of his bar set up and more.

What sort of things should you think about when designing a bar?
How you work in the space. The Above Board space is designed for me or [fellow bartender] Kev. We pretty much knew how it was going to work, and I designed it around how I work, my work flow.

If you’re designing a big bar, you’ve got to have everything within reach. The littlest movement possible is the best outcome for what you’re doing, you know? For me, I’’m trying to make sure that everything is in a really compact, tiny area that I can reach relatively quickly. Understanding where you’ve got to have a dishwasher, where you’ve got to have a fridge, where you have freezers, do you have extra glassware — those are the essential ingredients for designing a bar.

In your experience working different bar set-ups, what are the things that drive you nuts?
Oh, most of it! There’s always a bar designed by a designer who doesn’t have any idea about the inner workings of the bar. I could go with a pen and paper tomorrow and put down a design; whether it’s functional or not is two different things.

A lot of the key problems with designers is a lot of them design aesthetically as opposed to functionally. I can understand aesthetics at the top of the bar, when it’s all visible, but when it’s not? Especially with a one-person driven bar [like Above Board]; the idea of having everything as functional as possible is one of the motivations.
It’s also one of the key drivers to drive profitability and sales. The faster and quicker I can make drinks, the more drinks I can make and the more I can interact with customers, and the better the profitability of my bar will be. Designers don’t always take that into account.

When it comes to sourcing equipment — is it better to buy new or second hand?
It all comes down to your budget — you have to talk about budget. If you’ve got $500,000 buy everything brand new, because you get warranties and all that stuff.

I reckon if you buy everything new, you’re going to have less problems with it in the long run. If you can’t afford to buy it brand new, then make sure it’s got a warranty.