In the late 1980s when Mike Enright began his career as a hairdresser in London, he never imagined that more than two decades later, he’d be spearheading a hospitality revolution on the other side of the world in Sydney. “I liked the creative side of the [hairdressing] business and loved social interaction,” says Mike. “It was quite rare for a male to be in the business back then. In fact, there were two males versus 60 females at my college.”
Despite enjoying the hairdressing trade, his career took a twist into the British bar scene. “I simply looked too young to get into pubs, so I decided to get a job in one and enjoyed it,” he says. “[In both industries] your interaction with people is a driving force, and both careers require great discipline.”
Since then, the aspirational people-person (who studied a degree in marketing to enable him to “understand how to create brands”) has opened some of the most successful venues in Australia after returning Down Under, including The Loft, The Ivy Complex, Mr. Wong and Ms.G’s.
His first independent project, The Barber Shop (a barber’s at the front and gin bar at the back), now has two Sydney venues. “To me, the two skills went hand in hand – bartenders mastering the craft of the cocktail and barbers mastering traditional grooming techniques,” he says. “I also wanted to create a day business, so it made sense to combine both worlds.”
There’s also his range of gin-scented male grooming products (“gin is one of my favourite subjects”) that contain 16 botanicals including juniper, ginger, coriander and llicorice root, crafted in the same tradition as the spirit he adores.
But it’s his latest venture, The Duke of Clarence in Sydney – a 19th century-inspired English tavern opened in partnership with Julian Train – that has bought his career path full circle (see gallery above).
“It’s everything I couldn’t get in a pub here,” admits Mike, who returned to the UK during the planning stages to immerse himself in the drinking culture.
There’s a 500-strong line-up of spirits (80 per cent from the British aisles), alongside sherries, ports and beer served from ornate English-made taps. The team have also sourced six vintage Pimm’s products from the 1960s and ’70s. And the food is British pub grub with an Aussie twist (potted crab with soda bread; blue-eyed cod fish finger sandwiches).
On the interior décor, he worked with UK set designer Sara Mathers (“Her best advice was not to overlap eras and stay true to one time period”), and local design firm Steel & Stitch. “It’s a tough one [to avoid clichés], but authenticity is key,” he says. “You don’t want to become too themed and end up being comical or tacky. For us, achieving an authentic space meant that we needed to purchase as many original items from the UK, such as floor boards, stained glass, and furniture”.
It’s sure to win over British ex-pats who miss home. But they hope to win over the Aussies too. “People have very little time these days, but love to travel more, so I think the [hospitality] experience has got to have an international, cosmopolitan feel,” says Mike. “It has to take guests away from their everyday environment. The small bar bill in Sydney has given small hospitality operators the chance to create some really unique and special venues. It’s really exciting to be part of it.”