We know it’s been a dark time for New Zealand in recent days, but on the bars and drinks front there has been some good news.
Two of New Zealand’s best bartenders, James Millar and ex-pat Englishman, Barney Toy, have bought one the country’s best loved cocktail bars, Mea Culpa, in Auckland.
Mea Culpa has a long history of cocktailing — it began life in 2005 — and has had some stellar bartenders do time behind the stick (like former Australian Bartender editor and ambassador extraordinaire, Simon McGoram).
Australian audiences will know both Toy and Millar as the NZ representatives for Bacardi Legacy — Toy was the runner up at the global final held in Sydney in 2015 with his Pan Am Cocktail, and Millar represented NZ at the global final last year in Mexico City with his cocktail, La Familia No.2.
They’re a couple of quick-talking bartenders who know a thing or two about great drinks, so below we hit up Toy with some questions about how they came to take over Mea Culpa, and what to expect from them in the future.
So you and James Millar have taken over Mea Culpa? Can you tell us why and how it came about?
Yeah, finally! We had been working on a concept for a bar for about 18 months now. How we ended up in Mea really started when I was in London, getting fed up with the rat race lifestyle, so I decided to move back to NZ. James and I kept in touch while I was in London and the plan was always to do a bar one day. Mea was up for sale so we started talking about it and it kinda just ran from there.
What made mea Culpa great in the past, and what are you doing with it in the future?
Mea is an institution in New Zealand and has had some great bartenders behind the stick over the years, it was always the go to industry bar. We want to breathe some life into the venue and refocus it more toward a neighbourhood bar vibe aiming to cater to the people who live in the immediate area offering dope drinks with fast slick service. All of our cocktails are fully batched which is important given there are just two of us behind the bar. We want to be able to offer something for everyone: NZ wine, craft beer as well as awesome cocktails and mixed drinks.
How does it feel to be back in NZ? Why did you want to go back to NZ to realise your bar ownership dreams?
It feels great, but a little scary too! I always knew NZ was home for me and where I wanted to open my first bar. Getting to do it with a good friend is a bonus, we’ve been planning it for so long. NZ is such a melting pot of really creative people, so customers are pretty open to try new things and learn along the way. That was always a super exciting thing for me.
We have some big plans for Mea Culpa so watch this space.
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