Harrison Kenney: The journey from bartender at Cantina OK!, to the award-winning Bar With Shapes For a Name, and now Paris, this Sydney bartender is taking on the world

Story by Andy Ratcliff, reach him at andrewjohn@me.com

Photography by Audrey Carpentras

I don’t remember when I first met Kenney, so we must have had a good time! Raised in the Sydney hospitality scene, Harrison, affectionately known as “Kenney”, has had an incredibly short rise to fame amongst the global bartending community. So it should be, Kenney is polite, fun and loves to joke around. He’s an incredible young talent with a breathtaking sense of style. We sat down with him to learn about his career and what brought him to the City of Lights.

Hi Kenney, Thanks for sitting down with us today. Tell us a bit about how you got started in the scene. Where did you first work, and what were some of the best and worst memories from that time?
Kenney: Certainly, there was some nepotism involved. At 18, fresh out of high school, eager to travel, and in need of income, a friend of mine got me a job at the bar where he worked. That place was The Beresford, under the Merivale umbrella. I have some pretty great memories there, including two of those million-dollar staff parties—haha! I was young and clueless about the world of hospitality, and being taken to the hipster cocktail bars (there weren’t many) for after-work drinks made me feel like a part of something.
I wouldn’t describe them as bad times, but anyone familiar with Beresford Sundays and the responsibilities of a glassy/barback would understand what those shifts were like.

I think there was a point (possibly at Cantina, OK!) where you hit the ground running and went through a metamorphosis from being a good-time party guy to a serious contender for any competition in the industry. Can you tell us a bit more about this process? Was it a shining light moment, or did you just gradually take on more responsibility?
“The hour of metamorphoses, when people half hope, half fear that a dog will become a wolf.” I will call it a shining light moment. It was a small, ephemeral, yet powerful idea: a vision of my ideal future self, a vision that guided, inspired, and propelled progress, originating within the walls of Cantina OK!.


It was a place where my love for hospitality blossomed, and I realised our industry’s vital importance. All the while, surrounded by individuals who believed in me more than I believed in myself, I gained the confidence to dream big. We all dreamed big!

You’ve had your fair share of success with competitions. The Patron Perfectionist competition in 2022 (that you won) gave you an opportunity to travel pretty extensively. Can you tell us about that phase and how it changed you?
It all unfolded quickly, albeit not without considerable hard work. This aspect is often overlooked; while people see you celebrate your victory online, they rarely see the countless hours invested. It was the first big moment of putting myself outside my comfort zone, a practice I’ve since embraced.
The travel, of course, has been, and continues to be, amazing. It’s a bit surreal to think that I first ever got a job in order to pursue it.

“[Cantina OK!] was a place where my love for hospitality blossomed, and I realised our industry’s vital importance. All the while, surrounded by individuals who believed in me more than I believed in myself, I gained the confidence to dream big. We all dreamed big!”

You absolutely nailed your role at Cantina OK! and Bar Planet then moved over to the UK to work with Remy Savage at Bar With Shapes For a Name. What sort of advice have you got for bartenders wanting to move across the ditch?
Be patient and take time to learn what’s out in the world. You possess the potential to accomplish whatever you commit to as long as you’re prepared to dedicate the effort and recognize that genuine greatness is achieved over time.

After this, you moved on with Remy to work at Bar Nouveau in Paris. How was working in a bar in a foreign-language-speaking nation? What were the challenges, and what was the reward?
Paris attracts 40 million tourists annually, and given the international nature of cocktail bars, it’s generally easy to navigate. The main challenge lies in striking the right balance of translatable Australian humour and idioms. Every day brings its rewards; I took on a challenge that made me uneasy, I followed through, and I find it remarkably beautiful. What if I fall? But, my darling, what if you fly?

Can you tell us why we should add Bar Nouveau to our bucket list for the next trip to Paris?
1. Paris is objectively the best city in the world.
2. Le Marais is the greatest neighbourhood to be perfectly tipsy.
3. 16m2 of Art Nouveau.
Bonus: I’ll make you the world’s best smoky ramos in three minutes.

Remy seems like a groovy art Dad, and you guys look like two peas in a pod. What’s it like working together?
He is indeed all of those things, and we consider each other extraordinarily close friends (Mon best), so yes, peas, if you will. I’m very grateful; he understands where I can grow and keeps me accountable. Undoubtedly, he possesses remarkable talent, but above all, he’s exceptional company.

Are there any huge culture shocks about working in hospo in another country? Are the tips good? Are French people really that rude? Can you actually get a good coffee at 10pm in Paris?
Healthy work-life balance is a fundamental right, Bleu Blanc Rouge! The tips are good; tourism plays a significant role in this. French people are delightful. It depends on where you choose to eat dinner; the wine is better.