By Fiona Stocker.
Nate Cairns lights up when he talks wine. Along with the cute tea-lights on his tables and the string of lights in the alleyway outside, his enthusiasm lights up the room.
Nate loves wine. But he also loves fun, so he has no time for wine snobbery, and there’s none of that at Bar Two. He prefers to let his customers enjoy a glass while they kick back and relax into the leather sofas.
A great bar, he says, should be a cool place to hang out. There’s food, music and a good vibe. And naturally, being Tasmania, there’s great wine. Boy, is there great wine.
A veteran of the bar and restaurant scene in Melbourne, London, New York and Kuala Lumpur, Nate has come home for keeps, and when he got here, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. Open the kind of bar that’s got a welcome for everyone, no matter what their tastes.
Don’t let the relaxed air fool you – Nate knows a good drop when he swirls and sniffs it. He’s spent the past year visiting cellar doors and hand-picking his choice of vintages and cuvees for Bar Two in person. And he’s got wall of reds to die for, a fridge full of sparkling and white table wines, and a cellar under the stairs to show for it.
He’s focussed on the boutique vineyards who don’t distribute widely, as well as the grand-name labels. The wines that can be harder to find if you don’t make it to their cellar door. Choosing two or three varietals that showcase each vineyard, he’s built up a stock of 200 labels that would keep our palates happy for a very long time.
Because he’s a nice guy and keen to share, he keeps the price point friendly and serves around twenty of those by the glass. So you don’t have to splash out on a whole bottle to enjoy your premium sparkling or your cool climate Pinot.
There are plenty of labels that Launcestonians will recognise – no surprise when one of the world’s most acclaimed wine regions is on our doorstep.
True to all the winemakers and vintners he’s met, he won’t pick favourites, although he does admit to an ‘awesome choice of sparkling’ from the Pipers River region. Names that rival the great houses of champagne trip off the tongue – Clover Hill, Arras, Jansz and Apogee vintages and cuvees form the top shelf of his fridge in every sense.
There’s premium gin and whiskey too, and a couple of vodkas thrown in for good measure. Don’t know what you want? With 25 years’ experience in bars and restaurants worldwide, Nate has a talent for picking the right drop for your mood and taste.
If the sound of all this tippling is making you peckish, rest easy on your bar stool. Platters featuring local produce are whipped up behind the bar – triple Bries and aged Gruyeres, salmon rillettes, olives and local sourdough are all handpicked to match perfectly with whatever drop you’re drinking.
When pressed to make choices, he’s slippier than a handful of crushed grapes. We ask anyway.
Winter warming red?
‘The Sharman’s Cabernet Merlot sells really well, and reds by the glass are my biggest seller. But what’s behind the bar is a reflection of the best of Tasmania across every region – it’s all good.’
How should we match wines with food?
‘That’s easy - all my wines go with all my dishes!’
What’s Launceston drinking this winter?
‘Reds. I haven’t served as many white wines as expected. But that’s okay, we’ll save the Rieslings, the Gris, the Chardonnays and the Roses for summer.’
What’s makes for a great bar?
‘It’s a fun vibe. I don’t want it to be expensive, and you don’t have to know much about wine. My customers are locals who’ve figured that out – this is a fun bar that happens to do great wine.’