‘Game faces on.’ A day in the life of Black Pearl’s Shay Chamberlain

Shay Chamberlain, Black Pearl.

Do you know Shay Chamberlain? You really should. You may know the Queensland native from such bars as Sydney’s Big Poppa’s and the highly awarded Bulletin Place. And not only is she one of the best bartenders kicking around these days, she’s also charged with keeping things on the rails at Melbourne mainstay and cocktailing institution, Black Pearl.

Keeping things humming along at the Pearl is no easy feat; despite the great talent that works at the place, it’s also a go-to hospo bar and that can bring its own challenges (try and leave before the close and you’ll know what we mean). But what goes into running the joint day in and day out? Here, lightly edited and condensed, is a day in the life according to Chamberlain.

12:00pm: Alarm goes off! I’m not ready for this, I hit snooze. Despite my best intentions the previous night when setting the alarm, I’ll snooze for at least half an hour.

12:30pm: The sound is just irritating now, I’m awake. I sit up and check my phone, see what I’ve missed. This usually includes the socials, email and Slack. We use Slack for all our communication at the Pearl, nightly reports, management threads, funky new products, cocktail R&D, etc.

I also check what’s going on in the world, scan through the headlines, check the footy scores, what’s on at the NGV, new bars and restaurants. This keeps the bar banter up to date for tonight’s service.


13:00pm: Stretch. This is to soothe my body from the previous nights service and to get myself ready for the day.

13:15pm: Put on tunes, sometimes it’s a Cardi B kind of day, sometimes it’s Science with Dr Karl. Shower, dress and moisturise the 5am shadows under my eyes.

14:00pm: Quick brekky. Yoghurt or cereal, something along those lines. A cup of tea is a must whilst watering my dying plants.

14:30pm: Out the door, making my way on foot towards Fitzroy. This may include picking a few things up along the way that we need for that night’s service.

15:00pm: Grab a coffee with a pal somewhere close to Brunswick street or check over any emails.

15:30pm: Arrive at The Pearl. Have a bite to eat and iron my shirt.

16:00pm: Check over the previous nights close. Also check over the venue for any maintenance, leaks, broken lightbulbs, etc. Tunes on, set up the bar.

17:00: Set the mood, open the doors. Game faces on.

We prepare for every shift to be busy straight off the bat. In most cases the nights go like this: a bartender or aspiring bartender is first through the door, it’s a great time to visit the bar. The sun is shining through the window (cannot guarantee, it’s Melbourne). You have the opportunity to sit front and centre at the bar, smash a quick pony while we stir or shake up whatever takes your fancy, or just have another pony. Cue the pre-dinner crowd, Tinder dates and international guests. We’re exposed to every demographic, it’s really diverse so you have to be able to relate to everyone in one way or another. I want every guest to feel comfortable and like it’s their local even if it’s their very first visit.

A dinner break and a coffee are slotted in about now. We are only just warming up.

12:00am: By now the bar is dimly lit and full of locals who all know each other. Running into a past or present off-duty Pearl bartender is a given.

01:00am: Our neighbouring venues start to close, so we fill up. As well as mixing drinks and chatting over the bar we also need to ensure everyone’s safety. Guests and staff safety is my top priority, Brunswick street is sketchy at the best of times and we operate without security. The whole team work together to ensure everyone is safe and having a good time, communication is key. There is no opportunity to become complacent, the bar can go from low-key to full on in a matter of minutes.

03:00am: Lights up, bills down. Break down the bar.

04:00am: Cash up and order fruit. Write shift report and communicate any 86’s. Check over the break down.

04:30am: Lights off, doors locked. I walk home, it’s an easy 25 mins. This gives me time to unwind and unpack my mind from the night’s service. During summer you can see the sun rise and the hot air balloons fill the sky, it’s a pretty special way to finish the day.

05:00am: I write a list of everything I want to accomplish the next day and set 4 alarms with the best intentions of being productive. I’m knackered, and out like a light.