View Gallery 10 Photos

For the March issue of Australian Bartender, before all the present madness, we popped down to Manly to talk to Pete Ehemann about his new(ish) bar — and his first as an owner. The Cumberland is a beautiful little room, and we’re looking forward to getting stuck into some whisky when the coronavirus shutdown is lifted. Take a read — and a break from all things COVID-19 — below.

“It has been massively challenging but also massively rewarding,” says Pete Ehemann. He’s talking about the process involved in setting up The Cumberland, a speakeasy cocktail bar a street back from the beach in the Sydney suburb of Manly — the first time he’s had a piece of a bar himself.

And it seems to be going well. “We haven’t slowed down at all, having been open for five months now,” he says.

Ehemann owns The Cumberland with Matt Clifton, who has some form in Manly: he owns the popular Donny’s Bar and In Situ Bar & Restaurant.

“Matt and I have always been quite close as friends, him working at Merivale at Ivy back in the day,” says Ehemann. “And I having worked in hospitality for 15 years now, predominantly at Merivale, I always wanted to do my own thing, and Matt and I started talking. We met up one night and it was an idea that snowballed — 12 months later we sat down and signed some papers.”

ADVERTISEMENT
 

The Cumberland is a small space — there’s capacity for just 75 people in the venue — but it took quite a while to get the build completed.

“There was nothing,” Ehemann says. “The build itself took 14 months, this was a tiny little shop front with a little hole ion the floor, and what was downstairs was a concrete box with a bunch of pumps for the building. 

“So we hollowed it out, built it back.”

You enter The Cumberland through the fridge door inside a small street level deli called The Cove, and it’s from this space that the bar’s food comes from.

“It’s all Spanish-inspired tapas style,” says Ehemann. “Meats, charcuterie, cheese — quite a lot of hot food as well. We’ve got about 45 items on our menu, purely doing all the food for the bar downstairs.”

And what a bar it is. Think sandstone and Chesterfield-style banquettes, with all the details filled in thanks to Clifton’s habit of picking up knick knacks from across the globe (the toilet even has a genuine Thomas Crapper cistern).

The back bar itself is home to a host of whiskies that sit beneath a beautifully stencilled sign of the bar’s name.

“One of our big things when we opened was having 250 whiskies — we’re now at 300-plus,” Ehemann says. 

“That being said, we’ve changed a bit of the focus from what it was; originally we had a lot of American bourbons and ryes; [instead] we found a lot of people preferred the single malts, some Irish and a lot of Australian whisky as well. So we’ve bulked up our single malt selection, and slowly depleted our bourbon and rye section.”

But it is the thoughtful cocktail list — put together with fellow ex-Merivale alum Petr Dvoracek —which is the drawcard at the bar.

“We’re about 75 percent cocktails at the moment, which is fantastic,” says Ehemann. “Petr and I spent about three months in Crown St Library studying not only the history of Sydney but the history of Manly, and the county of Cumberland.”

It’s that research which has informed the concept behind the cocktail list, says Ehemann.

“Essentially, the county of Cumberland was a huge area, spanning from the Hawkesbury down to Mascot,” he says. “Where we’re situated here was the parish of Manly Cover, so everything from the fit out to the drinks pay homage to that: the old sandstone block, the cocktail list split into three sections. The first is foraged and found, so we’ve based all the drinks on a local Manly botanical; the second part we’ve named drinks for all of the old counties that surround the county of Cumberland, and we’ve based the drink on that county’s major commodity at the time. So the county of Cook had some of Australia’s first tea plantations, Bathurst had the gold rush so we did a drink based on gold.”

The Cumberland can often see a queue waiting out the door on weekend nights (which would have been a bit of a giveaway in the speakeasy era), with a mix of locals and destination drinkers hitting the bar.

“We love the locals here and we’ve had a lot of people in here for their 10th or 11th visits,” Ehemann says. “But we also have had write ups in Qantas mag and had people head straight here form the airport.”

So it is as Ehemann says — despite the long build time and the pressures inherent in opening your first bar, it has been worth the effort.

“There were times in the opening weeks when I was thinking, ‘Why have I done this?’” he says. 

“But now that we’re in the thick of it and the cogs are turning and people are really appreciating the venue for what we intended, and to see it come to fruition the way it has, mate I can’t say how proud I am — I’m super glad that I did it.”