The Kodiak Club – Melbourne’s piece of North America

By Edward Washington

Address: 272 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy Victoria
Phone: 0431 947 910


There’s a bear in there…

Melbourne has numerous ‘haunts’, ‘holes’ and ‘tippling joints’ and Australian Bartender always likes to share the best of the best with its readers – so here’s one for the whiskey lovers.

The Kodiak Club has been up and running since mid-2010 and while it now has a firmly established moniker as a ‘bourbon bar’ co-owner Nathan DeBritt says that it wasn’t always the hard and fast plan. “We didn’t really know what the bar would evolve into and didn’t want to trap ourselves with a specific theme,” DeBritt explained, “so we came up with a name that both complimented our North American vision but left room to move if the response to our product was not positive.”

DeBritt owns the venue along with his father, Kym, and the latter has been around the hospitality scene for some time owning and operating several large clubs and hotels in a number of states. Their American whiskey bar is now entrenched as a local watering hole on the popular Brunswick street in Fitzroy and Nathan DeBritt thinks that their success is largely due to their unique offering. “There are no American whiskey focused venues in Melbourne and few in Australia for mind, he said. “Also, no one else is offering the high quality of American cuisine in Melbourne that the Kodiak does.”

It’s not just the selection of food and drink on offer however that’s giving them an edge, as DeBritt considers the staff’s passion as key to the venue’s success. “The entire team takes a personal responsibility for the venue. That includes the quality of the products we present and the atmosphere we create – it’s a friendly and fun place to drink and to work.”

Q+A: How long did it take to get the Kodiak up and running?

From the text message “THUNDERCATS ARE GO!” that I sent Dane when I signed the papers to opening the doors – three months.” Nathan DeBritt, co-owner The Kodiak Club, Melbourne

While they’re sitting in a prime area for foot traffic (and it’s evident on a busy night when people pour in off the street) DeBritt conceded they were initially looking for a CBD location. “[However] the second I walked into our venue in its previous incarnation I saw the potential and knew it could become something great again,” he said. The Kodiak sits where Melbourne cocktail institution Ginger was trading, so perhaps there’s a bit of the old bar’s karma floating around giving them a lift.

While keeping the interior fairly simple and uncomplicated – the crowd they pull is eclectic enough – DeBritt’s vision was to create a place that was a great place to have a drink. “To take the best bits of the Melbourne cocktail bar scene, and leave a few things that we thought were negatives out,” he says. The decision to focus on an American style of bar DeBritt attributes to a collaboration with his best friend, Dane Botfield, who he says pointed out the ‘glaring hole’ in the market. While it’s certainly the dominant emphasis, don’t let this turn you away from a night there as they will accommodate all tastes. “Ask for a Mojito we’ll all try and sell you on a Mint Julep,” DeBritt jokes. “Still want a Mojito? – you’ll get the best one this side of Havana with a smile to back it up.”

As any owner/ operator will tell you there are things that you want and thinks that you get, and DeBritt says there were a few challenges along the way. “Mainly the compromises,” he explains, “from what you would like to what you really need – the dream Vs reality.” Trying to catch some sleep along the way was also another concern – he was managing the family hotel (Town Hall Hotel, Richmond) throughout the opening process. Having a good team around you will always make things smooth(er) and DeBritt used ST Designs who had been doing shop designs and home interiors to do the fit-out. The Kodiak Club has a personal touch too, from Debritt, “most of the adornments once graced my now barren apartment,” he admits – a bit of a theme these days with small bars (Jeremy Shipley decorated much of Hinky Dinks in Sydney with his own personal collections).

Bourbon’s best backs up

Behind the bar it’s an all-American line-up with over 60 American whiskeys set beneath a powerful image of a Kodiak bear. The bar crew are playing around with various infusions (like bacon infused bourbon Old Fashioneds), Apple and Beetroot juice based bourbon cocktails and barrel aged Manhattans. If you try the latter make sure you do it after their seriously intense buffalo wings – you’ll taste nothing after, and DeBritt is happy with the way cocktails are dominating the drinks purchases. He credits Eamon ‘Fred’ Siggins with the drinks list and the food menu. “Siggins is our bar manager/ head chef and had carte-blanche over the lists,” DeBritt said, “and I’m yet to be less than amazed by his food and drink selections, as it would seem so are our rapidly growing customer base.”

While Siggins takes charge of the bottle selection DeBritt does keep a watchful eye on the back bar and has a few specials if you’re asking. “A favourite is the Jefferson’s Presidential Select, 17yrs old,” he says, “and it was worth the wait.” If bourbons not necessarily what you’re looking for then there is a diverse selection of beers to wash down some of the tasty treats on offer. “It’s great American bar food,” says DeBritt. “Traditional style Buffalo Wings (our signature dish) through to BBQ Beef Ribs and Dane’s grandma’s recipe for Pecan Pie served with Sazerac Cream.”

This typically cool Melbourne bar is setting itself as a long term institution so it’d be good advice to get down there and check it out yourself. Why is it proving such a hit in a town spilling with drinking dens? For DeBritt it’s simple, “It always comes down to two things ‘product and service’ get those right and it’s hard for people not to want to come back.” Spot on.

Cocktails ($17)

Federation Cocktail
Pepperberry infused 666 vodka, white grapefruit juice, Lillet & White Chocolate liqueur: House variation of the 20th Century cocktail – party like it’s 1899.

La Malvada
Blanca Tequila, ginger honey liqueur, grapefruit juice and lime. Straight up with fresh ginger.

Grand Army Plaza
Rittenhouse rye whiskey, Campari, Amaro Montenegro, Maraschino and dry vermouth. Serve ‘up’ with a grapefruit twist.

Victoria Fizz
Lavender-infused gin, elderflower liqueur, Aperol, lemon and egg white topped off with soda.

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