Meet Melbourne-based Irish expat, Alan Mulvihill


Name: Alan Mulvihill
Venue: Thomas Olive
Address: 300 Smith Street, Collingwood

For this month’s Introducing column, we spoke with one of the quickest wits working behind the bar today, Alan Mulvihill. When we got in touch with him for this story, he was plying his trade at Thomas Olive, but has since moved on. He’s also been getting a lot of coverage in the media in Melbourne of late, and you may have seen him in a decidedly less covered state all over social media. We’re not that kind of magazine, though, so here’s our chat with him.

As told to Sam Bygrave

I was studying computer programming, because in Ireland everyone was doing it ten years ago. I hated it. I was so bored. I left after three months and hopped town for a bit, but my parents demanded I do something with my life. I went and did a Failte Irleand course — that’s the Ireland tourism board — because they paid you to go there and study to be bartenders. I haven’t looked back since.


I’ve been [Thomas Olive] for a year and a half. I started downstairs [at Saint Crispin] as a bartender, hated it, because it’s just polishing wine glasses all the time, and was going to leave. But then Jenna Hemsworth left and I got offered the job upstairs.

There’s so much focus on what the theme of every bar is in this city — every bar has to have a theme. What I really wanted to do was to have just an excellent neighbourhood bar, a place where people come and not just sit for one drink and say, “look at this, how French and boutique is this? But let’s not stay because it’s horrible.”

I try to create an environment where people can sit and chat and meet their friends here and come on a regular basis. And come back with a rapport — building relationships is very important because bartending in Ireland has never really been about the quality of the product. If you serve a shitty pint, you get told; but if you’re not good to the customer, don’t remember their name, don’t remember how they like their drink, or the conversation that you had two days ago, then you sink to the bottom of the pile and no one will ever look at you.

It’s based on charisma and engaging people back in Ireland because all the drinks are exactly the same. What distinguishes you from the next guy? It’s hospitality over service — it’s a key thing.

I drink beers and whiskey — I drink a lot of whiskey to be honest. I lived very close to the Jameson distillery when I was younger, so I didn’t really have much hope at all.

Smith Street is real vibrant — people tell me it’s like Brunswick Street used to be, cool and up and coming. There’s a lot of activity, people buying up joints and starting businesses. There’s bars opening left, right and centre.

I’ve never been in a city with such a great customer base [as Melbourne]. People here will listen to me, they want to ask me questions — that took me aback a lot when I first came here. I had just been working in Canada in a tiny little craft beer joint in the middle of nowhere, and people didn’t care: “Is there hops in it? Does it have fizz? Cool, I’ll take six.” Awesome.

Then I came to Melbourne, and everyone knows more than I ever would have in Ireland. I knew I had to put my head down and work hard at it when I first came here, there were massive gaps in my game that I didn’t even know existed. It really pushed me to work hard at it.

In a way it’s surprising the attention we’ve been getting for what we do here. It’s just slinging whiskey — they’ve been doing it for hundreds of years.

Customers are bridled by this term mixologist. They come in and see me with tattoos and a beer and think oh, you must be a mixologist. I’m an alcoholic who happens to get paid for it. I can make you those drinks if you want them, but really I’m just a bartender, I want to make you feel comfortable. When you walk through that door, I say hello, you’re very welcome here, I’ll look after you. That’s it. Whatever they want when they sit down we’ll give it to you. We run out, get beers from down the road if we know they have it. Why not? It’s the customer service industry.

The Artesian in London — people talk about how great the drinks are. But if you’re sat at the bar and say, “Jesus, I’d love a tequila and a Tennent’s”, they’ll say just a second, we’ll send someone down the road. That’s why they’re the best bar in the fucking world: you can ask for whatever you fucking want and they’ll endeavour to get it the best they can. It’s not because they put dry ice on everything.

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