Luke Whearty from Byrdi on nostalgia drinks, collaborating with Little Red Door & his plans for 2023

Interview by Elijah Attard. Chef and host of the Roots Hospitality podcast. FOllow him @roots_hospitality

Photography by Jana Langhorst

Adelaide-born, Luke Whearty grew up in Coffs Harbour on the NSW North Coast. He came to hospitality fame with his Singaporean bar Operation Dagger and back in 2020 he and his partner, Aki Nishikura, opened Byrdi in Melbourne, which has since become a fixture on many best bars lists.

You’ve got the Number 5 best bar in the world, Little Red Door, doing a guest shift for two nights at Byrdi for your Birds of a Feather series. How did the two nights go?

LW: Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. This is the first international collab we have done too. Which is crazy to say that out loud actually! It’s been awesome to be able to share what we do with the LRD team and take them out to visit some of our favourite producers that we work with on a daily basis and then come back to the bar and create a menu utilizing the seasonal produce. Both us and LRD have a very similar focus on locality and seasonality so we are definitely birds of a feather in every sense of the expression.


What is this Birds of a Feather series anyway?
LW: We created it as a way to connect with like-minded people in the industry. Not only for a bit of fun, but we can also learn a lot from each other. Our first event in the series was with Cantina OK! (the intimate mescal bar on Clarence Street, Sydney) last year. It’s also great for my team to gain outside influence and also our guests who get to experience these venues without the cost of a plane ticket.

“We have classic Aussie drinks like the Zooper Dooper, which for me, is one of the most nostalgic for everyone who grew up here. If those words don’t elicit some flashback feelings, you’re missing out.”

You’ve just launched a new menu too! I’m loving the Nostalgia vibes. I just did a dinner at PS40 recreating Aussie classic foods myself. So when I saw your cocktails I was loving it!
LW: The whole concept of this menu is Summer Nostalgia. But because we have a team with quite a diverse background, we’ve opened up what that means to our staff from around the world. We have classic Aussie drinks like the Zooper Dooper, which for me, is one of the most nostalgic for everyone who grew up here. If those words don’t elicit some flashback feelings, you’re missing out. Then we’ve got a cocktail based around an Indonesian corn and banana snack which is cool. Even in how we showcase the cocktails to people, we’ve recreated the cover similar to that of a Nirvana album ‘Nevermind’. This takes people back on a nostalgia trip itself. We’ve also got a tiki cocktail on the menu, which I never thought I’d ever have on the menu… but here we are!

What is a cocktail on the current menu that is personal to you and your childhood growing up?
LW: I don’t want this to sound cheesy, but it’s hard to say which is a personal of mine because this whole menu was a very collaborative effort. But there is one specific drink on the menu that is quite personal. It’s called the ‘Subtropical Fuckstorm.’ My team certainly looked at me a little weird being surprised I was the one putting a Tiki drink on the menu. Plus the name is taken from a Melbourne band that my younger brother got me into, called ‘Tropical Fuckstorm.’

I love the Nostalgia idea, so I can’t wait to get down there and try it. How far ahead are you planning these menus? With so much time and care put into it, it seems like you need to be organised!
LW: Well we’ve been enjoying the subtle themes for each menu, so we’re going to carry that on for now. We have just about finalised the next menu for Autumn, which will center around the fallen fruit of that season. Taking this idea of rotten or fermented fruits, as the inspiration.

On a side note, I have to ask. How did you go on the millionaire hot seat?
LW: Not too good. Let’s just say I’ll never forgive myself! It’ll be on TV in February though, just don’t let me hear about it. But I have to say, Eddie did a great job plugging BYRDI, which was great.

We talked before on the Roots Hospitality podcast about how you’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the restaurant world when it comes to designing the cocktail menu and style of service, I’m wondering if there have been any restaurants recently that have piqued your interest?
LW: Good question. The best restaurant experience I’ve had recently was at ‘O.MY’ restaurant in Beaconsfield. I’ve been there a few times now and just absolutely love their process and philosophy towards what they do. Plus they’re just really incredible people.

It’s owned by two brothers, Blayne (The head chef) and Chayse (FOH/Sommelier), and to have Chayse be the front of house operator is perfect. He’s a loveable Aussie character with no pretentiousness whatsoever. Which is very refreshing. That’s one thing we also don’t want our customers to feel when they walk into Byrdi. However professional the service is, we aim to give the people a unique but rememberable experience by the time they walk out of the door. So making sure they feel as welcome as possible, is incredibly important.

To close it up, what are the future plans of yourself and Byrdi?
LW: One of our main focuses right now is just knuckling down and pushing to elevate Byrdi to where we would like it to be. We’ve come off the back of an incredible year and thankfully the world is getting back to normal, so now we can start actively doing the plans we’ve been always talking about. We’ve had a lot of requests to do pop-ups overseas, so we’re definitely exploring that. I’ll be off to Mexico in February, and aim to get the team out there to travel and represent Byrdi as well. But until then, the Australian Open has brought a huge international crowd so we’re focusing on giving them something unique they can take away with.

Here’s to an optimistic new year!