In 2004, siblings Michael and Gen Cotter opened Bar None in Hawthorn East and, in doing so, brought a quality cocktail bar to a part of Melbourne where there was pretty much nothing even vaguely like it.
Located on the western edge of Melbourne's century-old dry zones, where new bars and pubs had to be voted on by local residents and therefore never got built, the underground bar focused on giving locals the kind of cocktail bar found in Melbourne's CBD and other livelier inner suburbs.
“I grew up in Camberwell and I was kind of sick of going into the city to enjoy places like Supper Club and Gin Palace,” Michael (pictured above left) says of the decision to open the bar.
Then, in 2012 – after a fire gutted the three-storey building in which Bar None sits – the Cotters turned the top floor into a new craft-beer focused venture, East of Everything. The tongue-in-cheek name was a reference to how quickly craft beer offerings dried up just a few kilometres east of the city centre.
Now, the final jigsaw in the siblings' story appears to be in place as they and their team open Rosalita's Bar & Liquor Store: a dive bar and bottleshop nestled above Bar None and below East of Everything. Named after Bruce Springsteen's raucous seven-and-a-half minutes of joy, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), it features eight taps, a jukebox, pool table and craft beer and natural wine bottleshop.
Transforming the former office on the same footprint into a third hospitality venue might seem unusual and place Michael and Gen in the position of cannibalising their existing business, but Michael says they've designed the space to have a different feel to the others. With a bigger bar for drinkers to prop up, a pool table, neon lights and extensive takeaway list, Michael believes it possesses a personality distinct enough – both from their own venues and others in the neighbourhood – to lure its own crowd.
He says the point was "to make it the kind of space that you can feel really comfortable to come and relax in, then chat to the staff and pick up a bottle to take home. Or, even if you come in to buy a bottle to take away, you might want to play a game of pool while you're here; even people who don’t come to East as much as they might because they want to go and play a game of pool or want somewhere a bit more casual to hang out.”
Considering Bar None turned fifteen this year, which makes it a veteran in Melbourne's bar scene, and the pair are pioneers when it comes to bringing cocktails and craft beer to the area, you suspect they know what they're doing.
“We had such a dedication or passion for booze knowledge, so it was always about how much could we share that knowledge with other people," Michael says. "We were getting people that were far more interested or discerning that were coming in and I think that really built the crowd organically.
“[At East of Everything] we’ve kind of changed what we offer but it’s always really been the same: it’s whatever really good craft beer we can get at the time and whatever interesting things people are doing.”
And, while taking over the last of the floors at 72 Auburn Parade might seem like the final act for the Cotters, Michael points out the building has a roof.
“We have our sights set on the roof but there’s a Telstra tower up there," he says. "But who knows, I’m kind of thinking that maybe this 5G technology might mean they don’t need so many towers and we can put a bar up there.”
Alternatively, there's one more direction they could take: “Bar None was a mechanics a long time ago so there's actually inspection pits under the floor; we could probably go down eventually…”
As Rosalita's opens, we caught up with East of Everything's manager, Andrew McConnell (pictured top right), for our Behind Bars series.
What’s East of Everything been up to recently?
Just before Good Beer Week this year, we made some changes. These included upgrading our tap system and installing a cool room; we now have 12 taps to play with and the beer is tasting better than ever.
What’s proving popular with punters?
The customers are absolutely loving Quiet Deeds’ DDH Pale. Not that long ago, we went through two kegs in just under 30 hours, which is a lot considering we are a small bar that offers eleven other beers on tap.
It’s coming in fresh from down the road in Glen Iris and people just can’t get enough of it. I think this just shows that the most popular styles are still an easy drinking pale ale or session IPA.
Have you seen much change in taste of the last 12 months? What’s winning over newcomers?
The customers' taste is constantly changing, and it can be tricky to stay on top of what they’re enjoying: one week all people want is NEIPAs, and the next it's resinous IPAs.
The newcomers will usually go straight to either a pale or a lager, but we usually try and push them to try something different after we strike up a convo. Although, you need to pick your battles – it can be tricky to sell a Brett sour to a staunch lager drinker.
What are bar staff drinking at the end of their shifts?
All the staff here enjoy different styles and have different tastes; it opens the dynamic well for discussion at knock-offs. Although, I can guarantee you’ll see Tyson Venn (pictured top centre) drinking a pint of Fixation and it's a wine glass of stout for myself.
How do you introduce newcomers to craft beer when there are so many styles out there?
It can be a slow process – as it was for myself. Properly communicating information about beers is the best way to go.
There’s certain words that we prefer the staff don’t use when talking about beers with customers – only because these words can be an instant turn-off for someone who isn’t sure what they like, and it might scare them off – things like fruity, sweet, etc. It also makes us strive to find out more about the beers so we’re able to excel at describing taste.
What beers have been blowing your mind recently? And which local breweries are exciting you?
Honourable mention to Modus Operandi and Quiet Deeds – they’re both absolutely killing it. Everything they do is fresh and exciting, and that’s what we’re looking for here.
What styles and trends do you see growing? Anything you think might be taking off?
The punters here either love beer that’s straight down the line, or something that’s absolutely outrageous. If the beers stay on either end of that spectrum, the people will love it.
On one hand, we’re seeing a resurgence in the humble and bitter IPA, modern West Coast styles with more dry-hopping are very popular, but so are the classic bitter IPAs. On the other hand, if you throw maple syrup in a NEIPA people will go nuts – including myself. If experimental styles are done well – balanced and interesting – people get excited.
There's been a lot of interest in the wider availability of session beers. Session IPAs, lower ABV pale ales and other low ABV styles are being asked for more, and people are asking for specific beers more often than before.
Any thoughts on where beer is headed?
Onwards and upwards. The craft beer scene will keep expanding, and as long as people are going to be happy to buy it from their local bottleshop, the industry will thrive.
As long as the quality and consistency continues to improve, more and more people will get on board and the sector will continue to grow.
Finally, what’s next for East of Everything?
With Rosalita’s Liquor, our dive bar liquor store, opening on the middle floor, we have a bit more opportunity to be more experimental at East: spending more on kegs, buying different styles and doing bigger tap takeovers and themed events.
That fine balance of offering great beers of exceptional value and offering really new and exciting beers to keep things interesting for our regulars and our new customers.
You can read other entries in our Behind Bars series here.