Story by Jono Carr. Jono is the Director of Bars for the Etymon Group and our Sydney-based Drinks Writer. You can reach Jono at firstname.lastname@example.org
Once upon a time, this was a much more straightforward answer. The Hand Jive Barblade bottle opener was the tool I most valued, so much so that I guarded my own fervently. It became part of the mantra of leaving the house. “Keys, wallet, phone, bar blade”. It had the weight needed to swing it around your index finger and swiftly crack the top off a bottle with an impressive sound, especially when you snapped that bottle top into a nearby bin just after. Nightclub days were much simpler times.
Over the years, that was replaced by needing a nice Wine knife and perhaps a preference for Japanese measures or the trident ice carving tools that were, in my humble opinion, so much faster than the single prong. Different bars called for a different must-have tool that became the pride of the bar kit. Either living at the bar with a firm understanding of who it belonged to or, if it was the bars, desperately wanting to have your own.
So when asking a few bar folk what they couldn’t live without recently, it is not surprising that the answers were all different. Horses for courses, right? They represent the type of bars they work in or the tools they simply couldn’t, or at least wouldn’t want to live without. No one said a Barblade, though. How times change.
However, the thing he couldn’t live without – was foot pedal-activated taps. “Once you have worked with foot pedal tap, it is so hard to go back; they just make sense and become part of your movement behind the bar,” says Conor O’Brien.
While talking to Conor O’Brien at his first bar, once he got to design the metal for himself, he was happy to point out the care taken in making sure it was ergonomically correct, and all the drains had a sloped gradient, so liquid actually drains down them. However, the thing he couldn’t live without – was foot pedal-activated taps. “Once you have worked with foot pedal tap, it is so hard to go back; they just make sense and become part of your movement behind the bar,” says Conor.
Having had the pleasure of working with them before, I must admit they become part of your flow, so much so that often after a long shift, you step on a non-existent foot pedal to turn the tap on when brushing your teeth at home.
Matt Dale of Re has a different need from his bar tools in the highly technique-driven cocktail bar. “Thermomix. The single most important item in our bar. In order to do anything in our bar, the prep would no doubt have to run through the Thermomix first. Need to centrifuge something? Needs to be blended in the Thermomix first. Need to rotovap something? Needs to be blended in the Thermomix first. Need a coffee or a tea but don’t have a kettle? Boil water in the Thermomix to make your coffee or tea. This is why it would need to be in any bar I work at”.
Makes sense. As does Elliot Pascoe’s very literal response and very fair point. He says the bar tool he cannot live without is, well, himself. Though more specifically, his best self. “Moving several countries several times has necessitated the regretful shedding of the usual totemic mainstays of our craft. I do not have a favourite jigger, shaking tins, a cherished bar spoon, etc.,” says Pascoe. “So before every shift, I turn my phone to do-not-disturb and take twenty minutes to go for a silly little walk for my silly little mental health, do my little meditate, see the sun, and come to work having touched upon the things that actually give wind to my sails and made me fall in love with this ridiculous life in the first place. Everything else from there is just glitter”.
Nowadays, when we are pretty spoiled for choice in terms of shaker types, bar spoons and strainers in stainless/gold/copper/brushed copper/black/vintage and somehow even more, the perfect bar tool is in the eye of the beholder and the type of bar they work. Though I did think someone would say a sharp bar knife.