I have to admit I was a bit nervous to meet Harriet at Archie Rose. Firstly, because when I drink Gin it tends to send me into a state of disassociation where I temporarily leave my body and some sort of Spice Girl invades it. And secondly, because everyone I’ve spoken to seems to reference Harriet Leigh as ‘The Boss’ and I wasn’t sure if that was in a Soprano’s, ‘don’t fuck with her way’ or the ‘I’m going to do great things’’ kind of way. I think I found it to be the latter but the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Archie Rose is not a place you come upon casually. It is not a ‘stone’s throw’ establishment or your corner pub. It is a destination, a place you heard about and decided you simply must go, even if it takes you three buses and a hip flask to get there. It is licked head to toe in copper and earthy timber and I immediately feel fancier just being inside it.
Harriet has completely forgotten I was even coming, which is perfect because the best interviews are always those unrehearsed and unexpected. My illegitimate presence aside, we sit down for a few gins and I try to find out what makes this lady so revered apart from running the show at Archie Rose.
A bartender from the age of 4
There’s something about having a British accent in the service industry that seems to cascade a sense of authority and charm throughout a conversation, almost like they have the history of 100 publicans inside their veins. Whether it’s an anecdote from her past or a caustic throw away line, Harriet’s English cadence doesn’t fall short of this quality and her childhood seems to further cement it.
When she was about the age of 4, Harriet’s parents would ‘allow’ her to make drinks for their parties. That sounds categorically like child labour, but I don’t think she would have had it any other way.
“They’d dress me up like bartenders dress up now, they’d put me in little bow ties and flat caps and I’d make gin & tonics for them. Then, I started bartending straight out of school when I was 18, moved to Australia when I was 20 and I’ve been living here since 2000.”
It’s a stab in the dark, but I’d say having a good 14 years experience ahead of anyone else puts her up there in ‘boss’ status. And something tells me, if her parents asked, she’d still tend their parties today.
The best job in the world
There are few people that honestly appreciate where they are at in life. With a long history in the hospitality industry, Harriet unabashedly loves her job with Archie Rose and her fondness for Will the founder is something to work towards.
In Australia, Harriet began bartending at Hollywood Hotel before moving on to Kings Cross nightclub, Melt. After which she went back to England and opened a restaurant with her brother and soon returned to privilege Aussies with her presence at the likes of Flinders, Hazy Rose and the open air cinema as the Food & Beverage manager.
“That’s where Archie Rose found me and said do you want to come work in a distillery and I was like, “Yes, I do want to do that”. And, now I think I have the best job in the world. I come in everyday, I run a team of 20, I make booze and I help make gin which is the best thing I’ve ever done. Who gets paid to do that? I get out of bed looking forward to going to work.”
“I’d been working late nights for 17 years before starting work here, it took a little adjustment to get used to my alarm clock at first (I’d only ever needed one to get early flights before), and now I relish my desk job. And I really love this company, I love the fact that I get to grow with it. There is so much to learn and that journey is the exciting bit.”
While the rest of our generation seems to suffer from existential inner turmoil, I think Harriet’s naked passion and confidence in what she does is something to be admired.
Harriet has the ability to hold people’s attention. It doesn’t need to be dressed up, it’s a simple fact. I’ve seen her speak numerous times; she’s funny, engaging, sometimes goofy (loves a claw) and all at once wise, but above all, she commands silence from an often raucous room. And maybe this is the fitting element of what it means to be ‘The Boss’, being someone you either look up to or listen to.
“I’m not at the age where I want to let life pass me by. I have minimal regrets of things I’ve missed out on. I want to have a life that I enjoy every minute of and that doesn’t mean it will all be easy, it won’t be, but it will be worth it.”
Always value yourself and your work
“I work a lot of hours, a bad week here is 80+ hours, which is fine but this time next year I don’t want to be doing that. I’ve watched guys not back down and know the value of their worth – I think girls are really bad at that. Don’t forget to always value yourself and your work, because if you don’t then no one else will.”
While I don’t want to make this about feminism, I think It would be remiss of me to not say to the young women out there that this is who you should be paying attention to. This is who you should model yourself off. Not for the ticking of boxes or degrees to her name, but for her simple understanding of her own human condition, the understanding that while we might not have equal opportunity we still have opportunity. Opportunity to create change, be it for ourselves, our friends, family or an entire group. Harriet’s capacity to have this realised rings through her like a bell. There is no ‘right moment’ or ‘golden time’, for her it seems a forever dangling carrot of prospect.
So, it’s obvious why you should meet her, why you should saunter down to Archie Rose in Rosebery and pull up a stool, and why people refer to her as ‘The Boss’, an affectionate term for how respected and loved she is. Now if only that sort of reverence would transcend the industry into popular culture. If only we would stop making stupid people famous and hand the digital microphone over to people like Harriet, then maybe we’d be getting somewhere.
Are you someone we should meet, or want to recommend someone that is? Why not drop your recommendations in the comments below and we’ll get in touch.