For some reason we love to drink in tiny spaces, like wardrobes for liquor where the lighting is forgiving and filled with dubious characters whose eyes glimmer with the prospect of trouble and 4am Chinese food. And while I do love a big bar with a 360 degree view, particularly one that shows off Sydney in all her sexy glory, I’ve always been more of a small bar girl.
O Bar and Dining occupies the 47th floor of Australia square right in the CBDs over tricked engine. It’s sort of dressed as a suit place but smells like a fancy family occasion restaurant. Stepping closer to the bar, my immediate reaction is ‘this is the kind of establishment stock brokers come to broker some deals and maybe break some nose cavities’, but I am also comforted by the fact that I can look down on the desperate masses fornicating at Ryan’s bar and be obnoxiously pleased I’m not one of them. Then Andy Calderon appears and everything changes.
Andy runs the bar at O. I meet him on a Friday afternoon with girl boss and bar enthusiast, Lindsay Rogers. We’re mostly here for the good times and spinning room, but also to find out why Andy’s been referred to me by more than two previous MTPs thus far.
Taking a big space, filled with the clinical aromas of 1pm business lunches and sterile insurance deals and turning it into a bar fuelled by quality drinks, personality and the home-made essence of a small bar is almost unimaginable. So, how did Andy manage to turn a big O into a small one.
Just your average guy from Penrith
On first impressions Andy is pretty serious and probably classically trained, his button up vest and straightened back says so. He’s almost philosophical in the way he thinks and speaks, but then he drops some out of context life analogy about skateboarding and he’s back on our level.
Really, Andy’s just your average guy from Penrith who at 25 speaks Spanish, Swedish, a bit of Italian, has a masters of education and recently won the Australian Bartenders Guild Bartending Championship. And, unlike me, Andy is super nice and doesn’t look down on people, even though he could, because 47 floors, but what he’s accomplished at O is something to be commended.
Learn from the best
Andy’s resume reads like this: some shit pub in Penrith where he mostly made illusions, Tank – that long forgotten pinger den, Ivy, Black at The Star and now O. He’s worked under the likes of Tim Philips and is adamant that the current head chef of O, Darren Templeman, is responsible for his new sensory education when it comes to drinks.
“Darren told me I had to come to market, so now I get up at 4.30 and go every Wednesday and Friday. I meet producers and growers, smell and taste, which helps in piecing together flavours.
Darren has been instrumental in my training. He said, “you’ve got to see what’s out there, how can you construct something when you don’t know what you’re using and tasting”. I’m a pest for it now.”
Build the drinks and the people will come
Since Andy left Black to take the reins at O, the clientele has done a complete 180 he says. “I was reluctant to come over at first. I was in my nice little casino bubble and when I first got here it was all suits. Now people specifically come up for the drinks, not just to do business”.
True to his thorough and detailed approach, Andy looks at all aspects before creating his drinks list. He walks the floor, talking to customers, understanding their needs and wants, he keeps it seasonal – just as a small bar would. Essentially it’s providing perfect end-to-end customer service, which to me speaks of strong business mentality and a commercial brain.
Be like a best friend, maybe more
The beautiful thing about small bars is you feel like the bartenders know you. They either talk to you like they want to have sex with you or be your best friend, and everyone likes those two things, right?
While serious, Andy still has great chat, which I learn when he tells me that “Bundy is my slutty little secret”.
Pass the knowledge
The Sydney bartending circle is a very conducive environment for learning. If there’s anything I’ve learnt about bartenders and bar owners is they love to share what’s in their big ol’ brains. First up, Andy makes us a gin based drink (Hayman’s) and one with Laphroaig, he makes us taste all the elements as he’s making them, and while I usually rebel against forced education, this is welcomed.
“The Sydney bartending scene is like a family. They insulate you, it’s a fraternity and if you embrace it it’s the warmest feeling you’ll ever feel. Everyone passes their knowledge on to each other and we’re better for it.”
While the lighting may not be as forgiving at O, the atmosphere is certainly warming. Beneath the suit, Andy is just a fun, tatted guy who deep down is still a “Blue Mounty County” boy that at the end of the day, regardless of bar size, he wants to “Be able to walk amongst my peers with my head held high”, as he puts it.
Served on the day:
Drink one – Curry leaves, Bee pollen, Hayman’s navy strength, Haymans 1820, Fresh lemon juice, Honey water, Mediterranean tonic water
Drink two – Campari, Plum pisco, Laphroaig quarter cask, sugar syrup, citric acid
Have a hot as shit bartender to refer for a chat and a compromising photo shoot? Drop a comment below or email me at email@example.com – get to it.
All imagery: Darly Kong