The Rewriters: How Ramblin' Rascal Tavern's Charlie Lehmann Chose Bar Life Over Politics
Meet the bartender who threw in the corporate towel to open one of Sydney’s most beloved watering holes.
March 10, 2016
in partnership with
What would you do if you were a little less freaked out by consequences? Would you talk to more new people, fear a bit less, dance a little more like FKA Twigs, or quit your desk job and start that business you've always wanted to give a red hot go?
Some sparkling young Australians are already flinging their inhibitions into a ziplock bag and seizing this little ol' life with both hands. Concrete Playground has teamed up with the Jameson crew to give you a sneak peek into the lives of ten bold characters who took a big chance on themselves. They've gone out on a limb and rewritten their path, encapsulating 'Sine Metu', the Jameson family motto which translates to 'without fear' — getting outside your comfort zone and trying something new. After all, we only get one shot at this. Take notes.
No stranger to the idea of taking a massive risk and steering one's life on to a completely new path, founder and co-owner of Sydney's Ramblin' Rascal Tavern Charlie Lehmann had a completely different plan before opening his own bar. From his early days as a bright-eyed bar back to the opening of his first venue, Charlie affords much of his recent success to the talents of those around him. Encouraged to turn away from politics and dive head first into the bartending world, his story shows just what can unfold when you're willing to take a chance.
CHOOSE BARTENDING OVER POLITICS — REALLY
Like a lot of us, Charlie first found himself behind the bar as a way of putting himself through university. Spending his days at UTS with his head in the books, his nights were filled with the less than glamorous duties of a bar back at the Hilton Hotel's swanky Marble Bar in Sydney. "I was clearing glasses like any great bartender starts off... and at the time I was studying, I thought I was going to go into politics or something like that," says Charlie.
After paying his dues here for nearly a year, Charlie landed his first lucky break as a 22-year-old-student. "I got a chance to work up in Zeta Bar [the Hilton's premier cocktail bar] one night when they were down a man, and I watched the sequence of service, the professionalism and standards set by some great bartenders," he explains.
But it didn't all go quite as planned. "I was making a whisky sour and completely kooked it — I forgot to put egg white in," he says. After being "taken aside and shown everything that's put into the cocktail and why," a burning curiosity for knowledge was sparked that, to this day, remains very much alive.
SEIZE OPPORTUNITY IN UNEXPECTED PLACES
"Studying politics, I became very jaded, and watching people who are a part of the political machine... I really didn't like it." Three unhappy months in the big smoke were more than enough to get Charlie searching for greener pastures — working casually for a share trading company didn't help either. Itching for an escape, his nights kicking back with a well-earned drink coincidently happened to offer up the perfect solution.
"During that time I had been going to The Baxter Inn heaps and saw a job opportunity going there," says Charlie. Built on the philosophy 'everyone's welcome', owners Anton Forte and Jason Scott (responsible for the Swillhouse locations Shady Pines and Frankie's Pizza) gave Charlie the change he'd been craving for with a full-time post at Baxter's.
A far cry from the cutthroat corporate attitudes of his last gig, Baxter's "had this family culture... We look after each other. Every single shift was like having a party, but with the highest of standards of service and interactions with customers," Charlie says. And it didn't take long for his 'rents to jump onside, with the venue placed in the Top 10 of the World's Best Bars for 2015, as voted for in Drinks International.
TAKE A BIG OL' CHANCE — LIKE OPENING YOUR OWN BAR
Amidst the tower seas of liquor, Charlie pulled long nights at The Baxter Inn for the next two years. "Learning the ins and outs of the bar, that's how you get to that level where my mentors or idols were," he says. Quenching his thirst for knowledge with every cocktail book he could get his hands on, Charlie rose up the ranks to become one of the most senior bartenders of the Swillhouse Group.
Surrounded by such a talented crew of bartenders (turned fully-fledged mates) got Charlie considering his next projects. Alongside ex-Swillhouse pals Sebastian Soto and Dardan Shervashidze, years of bartending expertise and a few friendly knock-off sessions inspired the lads to open up a bar of their very own. Spoiler: it's a damn good one too.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Charlie rose to the task of delivering a knock-out proposal to secure a space for what would become the inner-city drinking den Ramblin' Rascal Tavern. "We were one of twelve people to put in our proposal for the site," he says. "I sat for two days busting out this proposal of what we wanted to do. It's pretty much just like selling yourself and your vision for the site."
ENJOY THE BIG PAYOFF (AND TAKE A LITTLE ADVICE)
Charlie's unwavering gusto worked and saw the birth of Ramblin' Rascal in April 2014, specialising in tongue-in-cheek cocktails, dark spirits and $6 tinnies. Charlie still nods back to the influence of his time working as a bar back and the general sense of camaraderie he felt as crucial to pushing him towards this latest venture.
So what nuggets of wisdom does this seasoned bar owner have to offer up? First rule: "You have to do the hard yards." All of us have to start somewhere, as Charlie reveals, "I watched some of the best people in the game... and read a lot."
Sure, turning down a stable corporate spot might seem like a step in the wrong direction. But as Charlie shows, taking a bit of a chance, channelling a little 'Sine Metu' and venturing into the unknown can go on to pay off big time in the end. "I have a degree. I finished my degree and really didn't want to use it. I was going out into the world and finally finding this place where I was really comfortable."
Want to experience a little bit of 'Sine Metu' yourself? Thanks to Jameson and The Rewriters, one extremely fortunate Concrete Playground reader (and their even more fortunate mate) will get the chance to 'fear less' and go on a big ol' adventure to Ireland.
In addition to two return flights departing from your choice of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, this epic giveaway comes with five night's accommodation and $500 spending money you can use to paint the Emerald Isle red.
For more about how 'Sine Metu' influenced John Jameson's journey visit Jameson's website.
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