Drinks with… Eddie Tirado

Eddie Tirado at Eddie's Bar circa 1972

Australia’s own bartending great

Interview by Simon McGoram

We’re in the habit these days of looking offshore for inspiration. And why not?  There’s a host of bartending legends from America’s Dale DeGroff to England’s Salvatore Calabrese. What we often fail to do, however, is recognise talent in our own backyard. Eddie Tirado was and perhaps still is Australia’s most famous bartender.

Born in New York City Tirado moved to Sydney with his Australian wife in the late 1950s and took the nation’s bartending scene by storm. Over his 40 year long bartending career he has set up numerous bars, started two bartending schools, wrote five books selling more than more than 500,000 copies, was a founding member of the Australian Bartenders’ Guild and the President of this organisation for nine years. He spent many a long year at Sydney’s Chevron Hotel the Hoittest spot in town during the ’60s which played host to names like Johnny O’Keefe, Shirley Bassey and Nancy Sinatra. During the ’70s, Tirado also had his own show on Good Morning Australia called Good Mixing with Eddie Tirado.


Now in retirement, we thought it was high time we caught up with our local bartending legend.

Tell us about your life in New York?

I was born in New York City – the Big Apple, from 112th Street and Park Avenue. My Mother remarried when I was about five years old – my dad had sort of disappeared – and she married a bartender. His name was Bob Torres and as you know my name is Eddie Tirado – ‘The Grey Fox’.

I didn’t have much of an education. My education came from the streets of lower Manhattan. And there it was a challenge to survive… I decided to join the military. I enlisted at the beginning of the Korean War. That was the best thing I had ever done. I did my time in Korea and left the military after eights years and had to decide what I was going to do.

Eddie with Bartender magazine's David SpantonWhen did you first start bartending?

I tired for various jobs whilst in New York and one job that I enjoyed was with my stepfather Bob who was working at a bar on 34th Street. He said why don’t you come down and learn how to wash glasses. I was more or less what, like they call it in the States behind the bar, the busboy. I got the cigarettes and I did the cleaning. I also went to school – I went to bartending school. My instructor was the brother of Jack Dempsey, the boxer, who had a very famous New York bar. I got asked to stay a bit longer a do a bit of instruction and I was still working at the Rockefeller Centre at the time and that was where I met my Australian wife – Judy. She used to work for the Australian Consulate.

What was the bar scene like when you first got to Australia?

We found a home and I went over to the Chevron Hotel that was just opening up. I got the job as a bartender at the Chevron. The favourite drink at the time was the Brandy Crusta, The Grasshopper, Pimms Number One and also the ‘Strawberry Blonde’. The ‘Champagne’ at the time was Great Western and they had only one brand of whisky which was Bond 7.

I was on the committee to introduce Bourbon into Australia. The first Bourbon I recall seeing was Hiram Walker – from the guys who make Canadian Club.

Was there lot of work do be done to educate the drinking public?

Yes. Sort updating what people were drinking and keeping up with the rest of the world. So I got involved with the Bartenders Association – it worked out very, very well I had the support of all the liquor companies We more or less promoted the different liqueurs. Galliano I promoted and Suntory’s liqueurs. You see Suntory was only a little company when they first came here. They had a little room as an office.

You see it was wide open in these days – if I made a drink it branched to something else.  I went into television for about three years with a show called Good Mixing with Eddie Tirado in the morning.

A coaster from Eddie's BarHow long were you at the Chevron for?

I opened it up and I closed it down. When the Chevron first opened up it was called the Chevron-Hilton and they didn’t have a good reputation at that time – something just went wrong. So the Whitehouse family brought it from the Hilton family and they really made the place go. That’s when the Silver Spade opened up, you had a nightclub, you had the grill, you had the big bar downstairs – I worked there. Eventually the bar got called Eddie’s Bar. From the Chevron it became the Nikko Hotel. So I got a call from the director of the Nikko Hotel asking me if I’d come and work for them. I said OK, so I went to work for them and took the position of beverage manager. But I missed working behind the bar you see so I took the position of host, beverage manager and bartender.

Prior to the opening of the Nikko Hotel, as I had to wait for it to be rebuilt, I went to work in the city at place called the New York Tavern.  It was completely different. I was managing the cocktail bar there – the motorcycle people came in there. I took that job to see if I could take that kind of work still. Actually I did quite well too. Admittedly at times it was pretty tough with some of those young ones.

I also went to the Menzies and did lectures for them and I also did lectures for the Travel Lodge and planned the beverages and manuals for managing stock and so on.  I worked on the Russian ship – on the CT Line – training the Russians how to bartend. I opened up a hotel for the King of Tonga. It was just there for about four to five months then they had a riot there – it was something political – and it got burnt down.  Then I travelled around promoting in Singapore and the Philippines. You name it – it just goes on and on.

“I always treated people the same whether it was serving the Queen or if I served the rubbish man.”

What was it that you enjoyed most about bartending?

Meeting the people. I always treated people the same whether it was serving the Queen or if I served the rubbish man. The important thing is that they come in and enjoy themselves and I listen to them. That’s what I enjoy. Many times they’d ask you for your advice and the usual thing. Just being with the people.

If you weren’t bartender what else would you have become?

I would have done something in promotion. Would you believe I once wanted to be a hairdresser? But I didn’t have the patience

What sort of advice do you give young bartenders?

When I first came here bartenders were always expecting gratuities. I said a gratuity is if you work a little extra – you are still getting paid for what you do. I said the other thing is the when you sell a drink the money goes in the cash register and if you get a gratuity it goes in the bin. At the end of the day it’s what’s in the cash register that counts. I asked them how many here go out to drink and how many of you leave a tip? There would be one hand that popped up.

Eddies Cocktails and Mixed DrinksDid You Know…

Eddie Tirado’s Cocktails and Mixed Drinks was first published in 1972. Along with four other books he has sold more than 500,000 copies worldwide.

  1. Hi I just want to say that I brought this book at an OP shop in Melbourne.
    I have read it cover to cover about 5 times and its wonderful because
    Eddie explains the origins of each and every cocktail as well as preparation.
    Its great to know that Eddie is well ! He looks like he has aged very gracefully.
    I think he should go on MasterChef drinks section because I’m sure he
    would really teach all these young hopefulls a few lessons on traditional
    cocktail recipies.

    Great commentary on a great man !!

    Tony McManus

  2. From 1972 to 1974 I drank at Eddie Tirado’s bar at the Chevron while waiting for my girlfriend to finish a course with Madame Korner who was on one of the upper floors. My clear memory from those days was frequent visitor to the Eddie’s bar John Laws whose grey/silver RR Silver Shadow was parked at the entry in MacLeay Street . So, there was John Laws sitting at the bar and me one or two stools up from him chewing peanuts and drinking Toohey’s New. I think I was on about $28 a week as a cadet journalist and I remember newspaper headlines screaming “Laws hits $1000 a week!” …. unimaginable wealth at a time when the famous Ferrari Dino 246 sold new for about $11,000.

  3. G’day and greetings from Bundaberg.

    We used to drink at the Chevron in the 80’s, good times were had by the Royal Australian Navy on shore leave.

    I would like Eddie to sign my book, “Cocktails and mixed drinks” which I have treasured since 1998.

    What’s the chances.


  4. I knew Eddie, had the odd drink in Eddie’s Bar opposite the Sheraton Hotel in Potts Potts Point.
    He was a good guy and a top bartender. There should be more like him nowadays in good Ol’ Sydney Town.
    Best wishes to all drinking men in this world.
    the Kraut down under.

  5. Yes I remember Eddie Tirado at the Chevron in the early 80’s. His bar was impressive and he was a perfect gentleman. I worked across the road and took a part time job working at the Chevron’s bottle shop for a few years. Best times of my life!

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