‘I don’t distinguish between being a bartender or being a host.’ Adam Dow tells us what it’s like to work at Dead Ringer

Adam Dow Dead Ringer
What’s the difference between a bartender and a host? If you ask Adam Dow, the head bartender at Sydney’s Dead Ringer, he’ll tell you they are one and the same.

As told to Sam Bygrave

I’m the head bartender at Dead Ringer, and I’m at Bulletin Place whenever I’m required, maybe once a fortnight. I’ve been here since we opened, in September 2015.

We probably blur the lines between bar and restaurant. Almost all of our drinks have fortified wine or vermouth, so not really hitting the food-matching cocktails, but serving more food-appropriate drinks — drier, more savoury, lower-ABV drinks.

Sometimes you’re in the weeds, making rounds of cocktails for big groups, but lots of the time you’re just pouring lots of glasses of wine for people at the bar; you’re hosting a lot of the time.

I started in a pub in Sutherland when I was 18, 19, then I moved to the infamous Northies in Cronulla and I started making some pink drinks there. Then I went to London, and worked in a cocktail diner there — the drinks weren’t great, but I think I learned loads by just going out all the time.
By that point I’d started to be really interested in bartending.

I got a job at Grain at the Four Seasons, and worked there for two years. I spent two years for the best part of my breaks going down to Bulletin Place, and spending probably a third of my wage every week on the drinks there.

I had an interview there [at Bulletin Place] — I wasn’t quite ready for it. It’s full on, they demand quite a lot and it’s quite intimidating, to be honest. I remember I was making a Whisky Sour for the owners, Tim [Philips], Rob [Sloan], and Adi [Ruiz], and three of them were just sat at the bar, and I forgot to put sugar in — I just got caned. Then I sat down to this theory test and I must have got about six percent.

It’s good — you’re just constantly learning. Rob, in terms of service and how to treat people, you’re always learning stuff from him; they’re all always on point. Just the level of knowledge they’ve got, they seem to know the right thing to do in every situation. And then bartending with Tim, I felt so out of my depth for a while, but they kind of bring you up and bring you along. Standards are really high — they expect the best, but they give the best training, and their credentials speak for themselves.

First and foremost, you’re there serving people, you’re not just making drinks. And there’s no point making a clarified Milk Punch with all these fancy bits and pieces if you can’t strain a Daiquiri properly, or you don’t shake hard enough when you’re shaking a drink, or you’re grabbing the slightly warmer glass rather than the frozen one.

Myself , I definitely wouldn’t distinguish between being a bartender or being a host — in hospitality, you’re just looking after people.

I like clean, lean sort of drinks — obviously the drinks that we make here, the drinks from the guys at Maybe Frank; those sorts of drinks really appeal to me, just letting spirits and flavours talk for themselves.

Just be nice to people. You don’t want to make someone sound stupid for ordering an Amaretto Sour. If we don’t make them, you can guide people towards something they’re going to like.

You’re not there to show that you’ve got more knowledge than them. I’m from the Shire, and I’ve got mates who go into bars and say that they get made to feel like idiots by bartenders who probably don’t know their shit as well, you know?