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Taking something ordinary, and making it special at The Thirsty Barber

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After an evening of half-baked plans and an unwillingness to hop from one spot to another aimlessly, we were about to call it a night. Then, I remembered I had a card up my sleeve: The Thirsty Barber. I wanted to see the place in action before I conducted the interview with Matthew D’Emanuele, one of the three owners of The Thirsty Barber.

A large group of people were outside, drinks in hand and lost in conversation; from the outside, one could mistake the place for an actual barber shop. Matthew would later reveal, chuckling, that they get two – three people a day walking in for a haircut.

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The entrance resembles a typical British red telephone box. Top marks for the façade, created with devious detail: if the door wasn’t open, giving a peek of the rustic, vintage interior, my friends and I would have spent a good 10 minutes looking for the entrance. Stepping inside is akin to taking a trip to the roaring twenties: a bustling crowd of people gathered in small groups with cocktails in hand, a huge retro clock attached to the wall, library effect wall, plush booths, 1920’s elevator grills and brick walls.

The Commercial, and the Creative: A balance.

Cut to 3 days later, and my colleague, Annabel and I are in the round booth next to the bar, waiting to start our interview. James Mongan, the bar manager, brings us sparkling water. (Asking for a cocktail was tempting, but we were working, and it was noon). The heavy-bottomed, cut glass tumblers draw our attention – the craft and detail is exquisite. He explains the process behind the selection of glasses for drinks, how the process extends not only to the cocktails.

 

We are shortly met by Matthew, one of the three owners along with James Stanton and George Adade.  “Do you do the whole prohibition thing at the door – the knock?” Annabel asks. “Sometimes”, he smiles. “We created that steel door with a shutter for that exact reason.” He explains that they only use it in some events. I couldn’t imagine them doing it on a Saturday night. “When it is sensible, yes.” He reasons. They did in fact do it for their Halloween party where they really went all out: they hired special effects make-up artists to make over the The Thirsty Barber team. “We gave them all the images that we wanted.” He admits both he and James tend to lose themselves in the creative process so they have separate meetings to ‘commercialise’ their ideas before going to market. But it works – together they find the perfect balance between the commercial and the creative when thinking of marketing themes.

I ask Matthew what inspired him to open The Thirsty Barber. “We knew that there are some excellent bars in Malta, but there wasn’t anything that offered a theme based experience. We felt something with a theatrical cabaret feel would be welcomed.” Many discouraged him: “A lot of people – including suppliers – said it would be too difficult – that we were too new to this business to go with something so… different”.

“But,” He exhales, “I looked at my fiancé and her friends – all 28 years plus – Maltese professionals and they were very reluctant to go to Paceville for various reasons – they felt the place now catered to a younger age bracket.” That’s when it dawned on him: “That was the crowd we wanted to target – we wanted to create an atmosphere where mature professionals felt comfortable to spend their evenings in.” And it worked. “Our over 21’s policy has been embraced and the fact that our sit-down tables are always fully booked for the weekend by Wednesday afternoon is very pleasing!”.

You take something mundane, and make it special.

“The selection of drinks is vast,” I comment. On Friday, I decided to experiment and opted for a cocktail I had no clue about: Ramon Gin Fizz. I was not disappointed.

“Before we opened, Beppe Volpe, our Head Mixologist asked me to name some cocktails – I said ‘Sex on the Beach” He winces and laughs, “They wanted to burst into tears at my ignorance.”  The philosophy at The Thirsty Barber is to offer something different. “I admire our mixologists’ commitment to quality and standards. But, at the end of the day, if somebody asks for a sex on the beach – you give them a sex on the beach. You just make it better than anyone else! Our guests have a right to enjoy what they want without the arrogance and pretence that can often accompany fine dining. We have a duty of care to ensure that each drink is of the highest quality. You take something mundane, and make it special.”

To me, that defined what The Thirsty Barber was about.

Another drink, please.

“There’s an art and science to what they [the mixologists] do.” This is a stage for them, he tells us. Of course, they get people asking for a simple vodka and coke. Still, if one gets a vodka coke from The Thirsty Barber – it’d be the best around. “If I go into a bar and order a gin and tonic,” Annabel admits, “If he uses a good gin, I’m won over.” He confesses it stuns him how a simple gesture like his staff going the extra mile for a client creates such loyalty – especially amongst females.

“I think it says something about this place that a girl can feel comfortable to come and be alone by the bar.”

And this shows. The Thirsty Barber is quickly rising as one of the most popular venues for Hen Parties in Malta.

“We believe it is important to create positivity with every interaction with guests.” He enthuses. “That’s key – we have an excellent team and are incredibly proud of their efforts.”

The live-bands

For Matthew, live bands is what works for The Thirsty Barber and despite it being a little frustrating for bands he feels very strong about what their set lists need to include. “We have learned what music works for our audience – the kind of music that people can sing to. When you see the guests singing and dancing and feeling comfortable – it makes all the hard work worthwhile.”

A step back in time; a peek at the future

Last question? What’s brewing: “We are keen to complement our guest offering by adding dining options with a 1920s boardwalk style street food kitchen. It’d be an excellent platform to grow The Thirsty’ brand.”

In the interim, they are busy working on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The Thirsty Barber will go the traditional route: A Christmas market theme for the seven days around Christmas. They will produce their own mulled wine, gingerbread huts, pulled pork, candy floss and toffee apples. “We want to recreate an authentic Christmas market.”

For New Years Eve, The Thirsty Barber will host the ‘The Thirsty Oscars’ – an exclusive event paying homage to old star-studded Hollywood glamour.  One can play a cameo role for a minimal price and enjoy exclusive offers and a welcome drink, or take the starring lead for a welcome drink, Midnight drink, a unique NYE cocktail crafted by the team, and two luxury shooters.

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Want to check out The Thirsty Barber for yourself? Visit their website, or look at their facebook page. If you want to book (which is recommended), call 79440909.


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