The Sipsmith Blog

Melbourne Cocktail Bars: An Interview with Joe Jones of Romeo Lane

in Articles August 17, 2015
Melbourne Cocktail Bars

We’re quite impressed with the Australian bartending scene and, when it comes to Melbourne cocktail bars, there’s nowhere else like Romeo Lane. Read on for our interview with head bartender Joe Jones…plus some cocktail inspiration.

Looking for a drink down under? When it comes to Melbourne cocktail bars, we can’t get enough of the stunning Romeo Lane and its classically minded drinks. We sat down with founder and bartender Joe Jones to learn more about the bar’s ethos, his drink-making background, and why cocktail trends might just be overrated. Read on for a glimpse into that ineffable Aussie bartending approach – and for five of Joe’s custom recipes to shake up at home.


I don’t like drinks with too many ingredients…

Walk us through your background. How did you come to bartending, and what’s your ethos when it comes to making drinks? What’s your favourite part of your job?

‘It all started with my buddy, Jimmy Snelgrove. We used to work in a restaurant together years ago. I was in the back (I’m a chef by trade) and he was in the front. His personality was undeniably electric, and he was one hell of a bartender – I’d love finishing up in the kitchen and sitting at the bar to watch him do his thing. At that stage, the intricacies of what went on behind a real bar were a mystery to me, and I was basically awestruck by it. We developed a friendship and after a while the seeds were planted: I knew I wanted to bartend.

Jimmy introduced me to a guy who would become my best friend, teacher, and partner in various crimes, Daniel Monk. Daniel used to manage the bar at The Toff in Town in Melbourne, and got me my first bartending job there. He taught me everything he knew about making cocktails, from service to spirits. We did that intensively for almost a year.

Following that, I worked in another bar for 10 months, met my lovely girlfriend Rita, who also worked there, and then opened a bar in North Melbourne called Joe Taylor. Soon the opportunity came to open a bar of our own, and Rita and I turned our attention to Romeo Lane.’

What’s your general approach when it comes to crafting new cocktails? How do you experiment with flavour?

‘Actually, most of my original drinks come from necessity rather than a grand plan to create something crazy and obscure. They’re based on classic principles and arise because of specific requests during the course of service.

On a daily basis, I get requests like: “I usually drink Martinis, but I need something more interesting. Maybe something a little lighter… I only just finished work! I like a Negroni, but nothing too heavy just yet. I don’t know… I’ll leave it to you.”

It keeps you sharp, and leads to a more ‘realistic’ style of cocktail, based on your one-on-one conversations. Sometimes those ideas solidify and get tinkered with to the point that they go on the menu.

With all that in mind, it’s more about experimenting with the balance I can achieve within a small set of consistent ingredients, which I find more challenging and ultimately more enjoyable.In short, my approach to new Cocktails is as calculated as it is completely selfish.

Which trends are you seeing this year at Melbourne cocktail bars, and how do your drinks reflect current customer tastes?

‘Actually, I don’t get overly involved in the Melbourne cocktail bars ‘scene’ sort of stuff – I don’t like ‘craft’ cocktails, and I don’t like drinks with too many ingredients. Whilst those might not be popular opinions at the moment, I stand by them.

On nights off I typically go to a few bars that friends work in or own, where I know the company will be great, and the drinks even better. I feel pretty happy being inside Melbourne cocktail bars like The Everleigh or Bar Americano drinking something well made and time tested. That’s what I find truly exciting.

That’s not to say there aren’t people doing cocktails like that at an extremely high level at the moment, and I think it’s great that there’s an audience to support it. But for me, my drinks tend to stick to the dry and bitter spectrum. They might not have 15 weird homemade components, but they taste like the sum of their parts. Just remember: the classics never go out of style.’

Just remember: the classics never go out of style..

Cocktail Recipes

For a taste of Melbourne cocktail bars, try mixing up five of Joe’s incredible cocktails at home. Note that all ice is block ice (handmade), all glassware is frozen, and all juice is freshly squeezed.

First Feather

‘A variation on a Quill Cocktail, featuring a little sweet sherry that plays very well with the absinthe and my favourite sweet vermouth.’ – Joe

20ml (3/4oz) Sipsmith London Dry Gin

20ml (3/4oz) Punt e Mes

20ml (3/4oz) Campari

10ml (3/8oz) Pedro Ximenez

2 dashes absinthe

Add all ingredients to glass, add ice, stir lightly to combine and chill. Finish with a lemon twist.

New Cadillac

‘A honey and amontillado version of Chris Jepson’s London Calling, with a slightly different ratio in order to stand up to the dry depth of the sherry.’ – Joe

40ml (1 1/2oz) Sipsmith London Dry Gin

20ml (3/4oz) amontillado sherry

20ml (3/4oz) fresh lemon juice

20ml (3/4oz) honey syrup (3:1)

Add all ingredients to shaker. Fill completely with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into cocktail glass. Finish with a lemon twist.

Brass Cocktail

‘Heavily influenced by one of my all time favourites, the Chicago Cocktail. Basically a Bijou served on ice and brightened with a measure of Champagne.’ – Joe

40ml (1 1/2oz) Sipsmith London Dry Gin

20ml (3/4oz) Antica Formula

20ml (3/4oz) Green Chartreuse

25ml (1oz) Champagne

2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters

Add everything except Champagne to glass, add ice, stir lightly. Top with Champagne and finish with an orange twist. This drink also works incredibly well served up!

Cardinal Cocktail

‘A lovely apéritif-esque Martini – almost a Martini headed in the direction of a Negroni.’ – Joe

50ml (2oz) Sipsmith London Dry Gin

25ml (1oz) Cocchi Americano

2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters

Heavy rinse Aperol (don’t discard)

Add ingredients to chilled mixing glass. Fill completely with cracked ice and stir. Strain into Aperol-rinsed cocktail glass. Finish with a fresh citrus twist (lemon, orange or grapefruit all work famously here).

Catch Up

‘A light gin and amaro sour that’s given a refreshing and vegetal bouquet from some muddled cucumber. The taste somewhat resembles a very adult Pimm’s Cup!’ – Joe

40ml (1 1/2oz) Sipsmith London Dry Gin

20ml (3/4oz) Ramazzotti

20ml (3/4oz) lemon juice

15ml (1/2oz) simple syrup (1:1)

3 slices of cucumber

Add all ingredients to shaker and muddle. Fill completely with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into glass over ice. Garnish with cucumber.

Feature images © Romeo Lane

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