“A bar can be anything. You can set a board across two sawhorses and you have a bar.” – Hayden Lambert
Hayden Scott Lambert hails from New Zealand but started his bartender career in Europe, where he joined the award-winning Merchant Hotel bar team in Belfast and become the winner of Ireland’s Bartender Of The Year two years running. In 2013 he was headhunted by Matthew Bax to steer the ship at Bar Americano in Melbourne where he was awarded Time Out Bartender of the Year 2015 and the bar took out Best Cocktail bar that year too.
Hayden opened his own bar “Above Board” an intimate 12 seat cocktail bar in the heart of Collingwood, Melbourne, which has quickly established itself with an award-winning reputation and is one of the world’s top 100 bars recognized by 50 Best list and one of the Tales of the Cocktails top 10 cocktails bars in Asia Pacific.
We were excited to host Hayden at IB HQ during this year’s Singapore Cocktail Festival and asked Hayden a few questions for those who did not get a chance to meet him personally.
- Merchant Hotel, is for many bar industry members a well-respected bar, for public consumers a boutique hotel. What experiences did you take away whilst you worked there?
What can I say about the Cocktail Bar at The Merchant Hotel, Belfast, other than it was an absolute game-changer in the cocktail world? A cocktail bar in Belfast that dared to dream of being the number one bar in the world. We achieved that against all odds. Sheer will and determination to succeed. We managed to bring the ‘best of the best’ bartenders from all over the world to our little cocktail bar. They came, they judged, they critiqued and they left. I learned a lot from that experience, some good and some bad. I took away a positive attitude and a strong work ethic along with the determination to succeed and a love of hospitality.
- How long did you work at Merchant Bar?
I worked at the bar for about six years. I was part of the opening team. I remember when Sean Muldoon, sat in my front living room in a flat in South Belfast. It was like a scene out of a heist movie where he was recruiting a retired get-away driver for one last job.
- Moving onwards to Melbourne, can you describe the Melbourne bar scene?
The Melbourne bar scene is pretty strong! There is such a wonderful array of bars. Most of them are locally owned and operated. There is also a huge amount of bar success stories. Just look at Black Pearl, constantly in the national and worldwide cocktail scene as one of the best bars and bar teams around. It also sits in the Top 100 Bars in the world alongside Above Board. The bar scene here is progressive and ever-changing with something for everyone. It’s a great place to be!
- Can you share with us the concept of Above Board bar?
Of course, I can, Above Board is a small intimate cocktail bar, in the heart of Collingwood. A suburb 15 mins by tram from the heart of Melbourne. We have a limited amount of seats so it’s first come first served. At the heart of Above Board, there is a five-meter black American walnut bar. We set out to create a bar based on the idea that all bartender needs are people, a plank of wood and a sink and some booze. And then worked on a concept of the bar being as stripped back as possible. No visible brands, no visible bottles just people and great cocktails. Complexity in simplicity!
- What brought you to this bartending approach?
I think working at The Merchant Hotel and Bar Americano, ultimately brought me to this approach. The opulence of The Merchant Hotel bar and the small detail oriented and simple design aspects of Bar Americano. Both contributed greatly to Above Board. Above Board is a really natural and organic progression from those to venues.
- What are some of the most interesting ingredients you have worked with?
Hmmm, you got me! When Alex Kratena came out for a guest shift. He brought out a perfume ingredient called “Oudh” which I love. I am still trying to find a great way to incorporate it into Above Boards style of drinks and drink making approach. But I truly love Italian Aamaro’s they are just so wonderfully complex and unique and they can take you places that you were not expecting.
- Favorite poison to drink and work with?
I’m a huge coffee guy and I take my fix any which way I can get it. When it comes to making drinks I am a huge fan of Amaro Montenegro. It’s just such a great product to work with a huge amount of depth and complexity.
- The least favorite question asked by bartenders and your patrons.
“Tell me about this” (Waves hands around) I always believe that the conversation about Above Board should be organic and natural.
- What are your favorite hangouts, when you have a day off?
Honestly, I don’t go out much. But when I do, I like to visit The Everleigh, The Elysian, Bar Liberty, Capitano, Congress, The Bar at Dinner By Heston and a little bar out my way called O.My Bar.
- Belfast or Melbourne?
Tough one! Melbourne for work and lifestyle. Belfast for family and Pints of Guinness.
- Any tips for home bartenders?
Keep things as simple as possible, and buy versatile ingredients. Don’t get caught up in acquiring gadgets. Remember balance is the key.
Thanks Hayden! We really appreciated your time and look forward to seeing you back in Singapore again soon! Check out the recipe below that Hayden’s shared with us!
35mls Amaro Montenegro
15mls Merlet Creme de Mure (Blackberry Liqueur)
25mls Fresh lime juice
7.5mls Sugar syrup (2:1)
1 dash of Pernod Absinthe
- Combine all ingredients in a shaker and add ice.
- Hard shake, double strain into a glass over cracked ice.
Fresh blackberry with a dust of icing sugar.