Story by Cara Devine, our Melbourne-based drinks writer. She is the manager of Bomba in Melbourne and the face and talent behind the cocktailing YouTube channel Behind the Bar. You can follow her on insta @withcaradevine or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Joining the hospitality industry two weeks before Covid lockdowns hit your city may not be the most auspicious of starts, but Australian Bartender Magazine Bar Awards Rookie of the Year Grace Rawlins has gone from strength to strength. She got her ‘in’ to bartending the old-fashioned way: ‘I always used to go in drinking to a bar on Peel Street named Maybe Mae, made friends with the bartenders there and just asked for a job one day. Thankfully it worked in my favour and I got offered a trial shift, and from there started working hospo while still full time at Woolies’.
“Hospitality is really FUN. If you’re just starting your journey, you’re going to have a great time. It’s going to be a little nerve-wracking and probably not be what you expected, but stay hungry – you got this… Sign up for what you can, get involved in what you can ‘cause it makes a massive difference.” – Grace Rawlins
Given that she had no prior experience she was happy to work her way up, saying ‘I went in as a glassy and just was like ‘teach me as much as you want to teach me’ and then during lockdown I just learnt as much as possible.’ She did have a head start though – as much as she was new to hospitality, she had worked as a Customer Services Assistant Manager for 8 years previously, so that side of the job came easily to her. She had a very supportive team at Maybe Mae who were happy to teach her the other skills she needed on quieter nights, and it all fell into place quite quickly.
She’s now the Assistant Venue Manager at Memphis Slim’s House of Blues, designing a monthly rotating cocktail list and overseeing a bar full of American whiskey all to a soundtrack of live blues. We caught up with her for a phone chat.
What does ‘Rookie of the Year’ mean to you?
When I got nominated I literally did a happy dance – I was so happy I’d accomplished that! Going into awards night I was freaking out but I was like, if I don’t win I don’t win, at least I got nominated. So, when I won there was a moment where yeah, I cried – happy cried! All the team was really supportive … It means to me that I am on the right track to doing what I want to do in my career in hospitality. I worked hard for it, I’m going to stay working hard and see what I’ve got.
What advice do you have for other ‘rookies’ starting their journey?
Hospitality is really FUN. If you’re just starting your journey, you’re going to have a great time. It’s going to be a little nerve-wracking and probably not be what you expected, but stay hungry – you got this… Sign up for what you can, get involved in what you can ‘cause it makes a massive difference.
What’s your favourite hospitality trend at the moment?
Aw that’s hard…! My bosses got me a book, the Noma Guide to Fermentation, so at the moment I’ve been doing a lot of ferments… I especially love savoury cocktails, with a bit
of umami, so I really like seeing drinks come out that aren’t super sweet-forward and are more intricate.
Where would I find you on your day off and what are you doing?
My family is from a small town called Port Pirie. I try to get down there as much as possible, see my family, see my dog. If I just have a day off around Adelaide you’ll normally find me at a bar, seeing someone, or just enjoying being outside trying to get some sunlight and not getting sunburnt!
You can have a drink with anyone, alive or dead – who would it be with and what are you drinking?
Well my favourite drink is a dry dirty Martini, that would be my go-to, and it would probably be my Grandparents because I want to see that I’ve accomplished something in their eyes and see that they’re proud. But if it’s going to be my favourite person, that would be Marilyn Monroe.
I feel like she would definitely drink a dirty Martini with you, would your Grandparents be drinking that too?
My Grandparents would definitely be drinking beer, ice cold beer!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
It’s kind of a tricky one. I want to be in hospo, that’s definitely the career that I want to be in for a very long time, I’d like to still be doing well and enjoying it, having fun. I want to see a bit more of Australia…I’d like to travel a little bit and see what’s out there. But I’d like to eventually own my own bar, or be a part of something – to create my own gin or whisky would be really cool.
How do you psych yourself up for a big shift?
Loud music! Loud music, a dance party in the car. When we get in… we put some good tunes through the speaker and dance as I get ready for work.
Any particular tunes?
We do have a very cool playlist we put on at the end of the night called Memphis Meltdown. It has Walking in Memphis, Sweet Caroline… lots of fun, upbeat music.
With the formal part of the interview over, I ask Grace if she has anything else she wants to add. She says ‘my parents always tell me the world is my oyster so I keep that at the back of my mind to be like, I can do anything if I put my mind to it’. When I point out that oysters go very well with dry dirty Martinis she laughs ‘exactly!’. With this pairing, there’s no doubt she can do anything she puts her mind to.