BYRDI Watching With Luke Whearty

With an emphasis on local, seasonal offerings, we look at what makes Luke Whearty’s Melbourne venue BYRDI different from other bars

By: Tiff Christie|June 12,2020

As anyone who has worked behind the stick will tell you, the bar industry is a hard mistress.

She demands long and peculiar hours in an environment that is ever constant and all-encompassing; sometimes confrontational and certainly hard on the body. And if you are a bar owner, she will also expect her pound of flesh in terms of paperwork and licensing red tape.


But over the past few months, the shakers have been quiet, the glasses haven’t clinked and the lights have been turned off, as bars around the world shut-down in the midst of a pandemic for which no-one was prepared. And the full extent of the effect of these shutdowns for individual bars and the industry as a whole could take months to be fully understood.

Yet as most Australian bars ease into reopening, a lot of bar owners will quietly say that the forced time off did offer a little respite; an unusual, albeit unexpected, chance for them to take stock, revamp, reassess and reorganise.

One such voice is that of Luke Whearty, the owners of the relatively new Melbourne bar, BYRDI.

Open for less than six months when the lockdown came, the bar had been quickly building a reputation of its seasonal and culinary approach to drinks; a fact underlined by the nomination the bar received in the Tales Of The Cocktail’s Spirited Awards for Best New International Cocktail Bar.

“Overall, I think it’s been a kind of a blessing in disguise, to be honest. It was such a push to get open and at the time it felt a little rushed; we didn’t have the chance to fine-tune things.

“We’ve tried to find the silver lining in all of this craziness,” he continued, “and one of those positives was having more time to calibrate things. I’m looking forward to getting back up and running with these finer details of the venue and operations solidified.”

Back in March, on the cusp of the lockdown coming into effect, we had a chance to catch up with Whearty who explained how the venue, located in the busy CBD food and entertainment precinct Ella, actually worked.

In the video, Whearty explained that the bar really wasn’t designed to work in the way you might expect a cocktail bar to operate. From its location and the physical design of the space through to the prep and drink design, the venue actually works more like a kitchen.

The team do a lot of fermenting and distilling in-house, utilising as much fresh and seasonal produce as possible. And each member of the team is involved in every step of the process. As Whearty puts it “the chef is basically the bartender that you are talking to.

“We were only a few months old before the pandemic hit, so we were just getting into a routine and feeling comfortable in the space. In the last 2 weeks especially I’ve really started to miss it, so it’s great to get the doors back open and welcome people into our home again.”

Unlike a lot of cocktails bars, Whearty believes that the venue design actually lends itself to the current restrictions. “BYRDI is structured much more like a restaurant than a traditional cocktail bar, so this makes things easier for us,” he explains. “Also in terms of our focus being just as much on the food as the drinks, we haven’t had to change the offering at all to incorporate a food element.”

The easing into reopening prescribed by the Australian government has not only looked at the numbers and distance of patrons that a venue can have but has also imposed a link with food. In other words, re-opening was allowed for venues that had kitchens or easy access to food offerings and were able to ask patrons were they intending to dine.

“I think some venues that are small and focused purely on the drinks side of things and don’t have much in the way of a food offering will have to adapt and it may be a little more challenging.”


With seasonality a key feature, the timing of the reopening has allowed BYRDI to restart with a fresh new winter menu. “We have a lot of new products that we are using and also quite a lot of things that we have preserved/fermented over the course of the pandemic.

“A couple of fun collaborations that we will be releasing also including our new seasonal gin with Applewood and also a Nebbiolo Rose that we picked with some friends of ours at FIN wines.

Whearty explains before their opening all of the prep work needed to be done off-site, as the space was very much a building site. But during this pandemic closure, they were able to utilise the space as it has been designed, for creating their variety of ferments and infusions.

“Due to of the change of seasons I’ve been coming into BYRDI through most of the pandemic as we had a lot of stuff going on like bottling the bottled cocktails and also filming for our BYRDI at home videos with Beam Suntory, so no it’s not weird now but it definably was weird for that period coming into the city which was like a ghost town.”

Any city takes on a somewhat eerie vibe when there is no-one around but slowly people are starting to creep back into the CBD and there is a renewed sense of life getting back to normal. “We’ve been open for a little over a week now and it shows signs of promise,” he explained.

“People seem to be really enjoying getting back out and I’ve found that they have a newfound appreciation for things that we are doing. I think it’s going to be a slow build and it definitely won’t go back to ’normal’ overnight but we have to start somewhere I guess.”

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BYRDI Watching With Luke Whearty

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