Story by Cara Devine. Cara is 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 email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
2/360 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Brunswick St has long been dominated by institutions. Staggerlees, the Black Pearl, Mario’s, Real Greek… These are all venues which have stayed at the top of their game for a very long time, and you know exactly what to expect when you walk through their doors. Stroll a little further along though, and you might be intrigued. A nondescript black frontage frames a window into a warm room dominated by a large black counter. Spotting the microscales beloved by bearded baristas Melbourne-wide your first thought might be that it’s a café, but on closer inspection the guests relaxing on low tables and propped up at the bar are all drinking from the same spindly-stemmed wine glasses. Aha! A wine bar then?
Not exactly. “PAR is a modern wine and cocktail bar, looking to bridge the gap between the two disciplines, with a strong focus on minimalism and flavours through aromas,” says Tim Pope, one of the three partners in this endeavour. And while that may not sound like a particularly ‘out there’ mission statement, these guys are being truly innovative in their implementation of it.
PAR is Australia’s first zero ice drinks program. Nothing is stirred or shaken, everything is served ungarnished in universal glassware (the aforementioned wine glasses) and the microscales ensure a perfect pour every time – a true parity of serve.
Pope’s partners are his wife Aimee, whose background is wine, and fellow bartender Tony Huang. They all have some serious hospitality pedigree behind them but, as Pope says, “It’s very rare to have two, let alone three, people that are all on the same page when it comes to service and drinks ethos.” Especially when that page is the beginning of an entirely new chapter. PAR is Australia’s first zero ice drinks program. Nothing is stirred or shaken, everything is served ungarnished in universal glassware (the aforementioned wine glasses) and the microscales ensure a perfect pour every time – a true parity of serve.
So what’s the thinking behind such a strong concept? “Consistency and quality would be the main selling points for us. By keeping the offerings small and rotational, it means we are able to really focus on each drink and ensure we are always presenting guests with the very best experience possible.” Minimalism is key to both fit-out (the sole focus of the space, besides the bar, is a pair of rotating digital artworks, currently by Yue Yamanake-Mead) and menu.
For the cocktail program, Pope and Huang marry modern bartending methods such as sonic ageing with tried and tested techniques; infusion, fermentation and carbonation are all skillfully deployed, and they borrow from the wine industry in racking their cocktails to filter them. Every cocktail is pre-batched and pre-diluted so all the legwork is done before service allowing plenty of time to chat guests through their offering, which all three do enthusiastically.
“It’s very rare to have two, let alone three, people that are all on the same page when it comes to service and drinks ethos.” – Tim Pope
A glance through the flavour combinations on the menu is beguiling, and the final results deliver. The beauty of the ice-less serve is that the drinks develop in the glass, opening up over time. The Star is described to me as their version of a Pornstar Martini, an easy sell for this one time club rat, but it is elevated through tea tannin and florals. The Anniversary is another standout, combining strong flavours such as sake, miso brine and tomato in a surprisingly delicate dance which changes with every sip. Given that PAR is billed as a cocktail and wine bar it would be remiss of me not to finish on the latter; Aimee recommends the Aller Trop Loin Tropical Blanc and it’s the perfect juice bomb to finish on.
Keeping the prices the same within each bracket (cocktails are all $20, glasses of wine are all $13 etc), encouraging ‘try before you buy’ and allowing half serves are all conscious choices to assuage any guest trepidation. Have they had much confusion or push back on their concept? “Truth be told we had a small list of responses for those hard sells or ‘not getting it’. But we’re very happy to say we have not had to whip them out. The response has been overwhelming and humbling for us all after the stress of opening your own business.”
With such a focussed offering it’s easy to forget that this is the first step into bar ownership for all three of them. I ask if they have any words of wisdom for other hospitality professionals looking to make the leap, and Pope’s advice is succinct. “Make a list of wants and needs. It’s a really good way to ensure your business plan is sustainable.”
The confidence of the drinks program is commendable for such a young bar, and the crew are happy to allow the business to grow around it. “We are super excited to see what happens with our food program which would be an example of reacting to a consumer need that wasn’t in the original plan,” says Pope, and indeed during my visit there is lively discussion of both ramen and fried chicken pop-ups – watch this space!
It’s good to feel that, even after a few years of Covid, there is still an appetite for new things on both sides of the bar. “Honestly we have been blown away with the reception from both hospitality and consumers. It really hammers in the love for what we do and the confidence to keep pushing boundaries.” An above par sentiment, if ever I’ve heard one.