Story by Andy Ratcliff. For any news, you can reach him @whisky.rat
After a year of operating industry darling Ginny’s Canoe Club, the team behind Old Mate’s Place will finally be able to unveil their new concept, Old Loves, slated to open in a few weeks. It will be an underground haven for Caribbean rum, coupled with its signature style of friendly and personable service.
We spoke with Dre Walters, owner and operator of both bars about the new concept.
Dre sums it up, saying: “I wanted to do a Caribbean rum bar.” And it’s a good thing too, as it’s a topic he knows a lot about.
“Tiki comes from the introduction of exotic flavours, like pineapple, papaya or guava. They probably didn’t have the silly shirts or the ridiculous glowing neon lights and wild garnishes. We’ll still have that element of fun, but we’ll peel back that kitsch element that it’s been associated with.” – Dre Walters, Owner/Operator
Dre’s passion for all things rum comes from not only his personal heritage within the Caribbean but also his past where he ran rum-focused bars like Grandma’s and The Lobo.
It brought him to the Old Loves concept where he has spent months writing an incredibly detailed and beautifully illustrated book. Whilst the detail of the rum is Dre’s, the illustrations and design come from his incredibly talented wife and business partner, Gabrielle Walters, and the book was edited by fellow staff member (and ex-journalist) Calum Mara. The book will be available for purchase in the bar.
“It’s our interpretation of rum,” says Dre. “It has some history in it, a lot of drinks that will be available at the bar (including our cocktail list), plenty of distillery information and it compliments what we believe is a recreation of what would have been the precursor to the first tiki bar.”
So it’s a tiki bar, but not really?
“The idea was to create what we think would be the first tiki bar,” says Dre. “Tiki comes from the introduction of exotic flavours, like pineapple, papaya or guava. They probably didn’t have the silly shirts or the ridiculous glowing neon lights and wild garnishes. We’ll still have that element of fun, but we’ll peel back that kitsch element that it’s been associated with.”
In terms of the changes to the venue, they’ve ripped down the back bar, the seats will be swapped out with super comfy ones, the lighting will change and they have added an extremely in-depth and meticulously curated collection of close to three hundred bottles of rum. The aim is to have all the rum mentioned in the book available for purchase on the back bar and there are some immensely rare bottlings that Australia has probably never seen before.
For Dre, showcasing little-known rums is really important. They are stocking Ron del Barrilito for instance, which is an independent producer from Puerto Rico. “They make one version of their rum which is basically spiced fruit and the rest of it is aged in purely oloroso barrels for up to around thirty-five years, then five percent of that fruit mix or less is blended with the oloroso solera, ” Dre says. “I’m lucky enough to have friends all over the world that have access to this stuff, so the goal is to have something from every producer in the book. I don’t just want to have a rum bar where we just go and buy every rum online from your local distributor, we want this stuff to have meaning. We want to showcase rum!”
For the cocktail list, they’ll be focusing on their versions of older tiki recipes but tweaked to bring them into the modern age. Think a carbonated Rum Old Fashioned that has pulled back on the demerara and swapped out with fresh pineapple syrup.
Dre says: “We use freeze-dried bananas to infuse the rum, sou vide it with coconut oil, add some jerk-spiced pineapple gomme and then carbonate it into a more modern version of a Rum Old Fashioned.”
They’ve also invested in their very own sugar cane press. which they are using to make their Rum and Cane cocktail. “It’s a simple process of juicing fresh sugar cane and balancing it with some fresh lime and rum,’ says Dre. “It’s sort of our way of getting people to try all the rum from our back bar without having to have it neat.”
Expect to see a seasonal daiquiri on the menu which they will change up regularly The first one off the list is a fermented strawberry daiquiri, which Dre loves, “and if you don’t,” he says, “then get out! It’s supposed to be fun!”
When it comes to the food offering at Old Loves, it’s a tip of the hat to Polynesia and the Caribbean. Highlights include a mini Cuban sandwich with slow-cooked jerk chicken, a late-night ploughman’s board with jerk-spiced jam, and a bunch of specials like the ika mata tostada, which is essentially island ceviche. “The Cook Islands, New Zealand and Tahiti have their own versions of this dish and it involves the fish of the day marinated in coconut cream and citrus and served with root vegetables,” says Dre.
With a late license until 2am (trading Tuesdays to Sundays), Old Loves will no doubt be an exciting addition to the already vibrant scene on Clarence Street.
Old Loves opens on the 25th October in the basement of 199 Clarence Street, Sydney