If you want to sell craft beer in Sydney’s Inner West, you’d better do something to stand out from the crowd, especially in the counterculture capital of Newtown’s King Street.
Opened in January 2023 by real life buddies Duncan McGeoch and Jimmy Roe, Buddy’s is an open and orange space looking out on breezy and easy south King Street. It looks like a normal venue at first, until you see the southern wall is lined with 30 chilly silver taps that look naked without a bar in front of them. Grab a glass, walk right on over and pour yourself a drink: that’s the whole idea.
And don’t worry if you have a history of butchering the pouring of beer – just ask the staff to help you. Everyone seems pretty chill at Buddy’s and it’s 100 percent intentional.
“We have that house party vibe on Fridays and Saturdays,” says Jimmy.
“On Sundays, it’s slower paced. We have really chill live music, acoustic style sessions on the window. It’s a great place to come in for delicious, tasty, weird and wonderful craft beers. We try to offer something for everyone on the taps: red wines, natty wines, housemade cocktails to lagers to ya plum sours and heavy IPAs. We try to make it as much as we can a bar for everyone.”
At any given time, Buddy’s features 16 taps dedicated to craft beer with the rest pouring wines and cocktails. The beer selection when I called in focused on local with Sydney brewers Atomic, Philter and Yulli’s making an appearance plus some over-the-border selections from Sailors Grave, Blackman’s and Land & Sea. Without a doubt, the lineup will have changed by the time of your visit, although the crisp, clean and a little hoppy house lager, Buddy’s Lager, will surely remain alongside limited brews that are there to raise a few eyebrows.
Service wise, it’s quite like being at that beer petrol station from Homer Simpson’s dream. Buddy’s operates by providing cards that customers load with money they scan on the sensors above the taps to activate. As you pour your beer you can see how much you have left on your card and slow or speed your pour accordingly. Fill a half-pint halfway or leave a pint overflowing; it’s all up to you.
“A lot of craft beers are really expensive. One thing that’s cool about us is the fact that you can buy a two dollar or one dollar mouthful,” says Duncan.
“Some beers are pretty robust and you can’t finish a whole pint or schooner. That’s why I think our system is great for putting on good craft beer; we can afford to put something on that’s a bit more expensive.”
So what’s going on behind the taps, chicken ribs and artisanal fairy bread? We invited Jimmy and Duncan to tell us more as part of our Beer Slingers series.
Who’s involved in the business?
Jimmy: Myself and Duncan, just the two of us. We’ve also got a good mate of ours Habib who runs Rub a Dub in the kitchen.
What are your backgrounds?
Jimmy: I was the brand ambassador for Good Drinks, on premises rep for Atomic, looking after pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes all throughout Sydney.
Duncan: I come from self serve technology, working for Pour My Beer installing self serve systems in a large number of venues in the States for the past four years, out of Chicago.
What first got you into craft beer?
J: Transitioning from being in footwear sales into working for Good Drinks got me involved with all the craft crew and everything beer related. I had an inkling for it before the job and fully immersed myself in it.
D: Who doesn’t love craft beer? What got me down the rabbit hole was at a music festival; the pain point was standing in line for 20 minutes while the music was all happening and I thought, "Fuck this, there must be a better was to do this."
Really enjoy that it’s all a sampling experience, you can sample it and trust us and draw from all those awesome brewers making liquid art.
What inspired you to open your venue?
D: In the US the self-serve stuff is going gangbusters, and when I got back it wasn’t going and I thought, "That needs to change."
J: When I was working as the sales rep, during my two months of progress appraisal interview they asked: "Where do you see yourself in a couple of years?" and I was pretty honest and told them: "My love for hospitality has a burning desire for me to open my own venue."
What’s the story behind the name of the venue?
J: We were deep in the trenches building the bar, knocking down walls ‘til 2am in the morning and getting back onsite at 7am. The only help we had was YouTube videos on how to build a bar and the help of a number of really close friends, sparkies, plumbers. Buddy’s was built by buddies and we just wanted to spend time with good people.
D: Also, this 100 percent happened. There were a few names on the shortlist but then I was rooting around in the roof one day and I had to cut a hole in this wall above the kitchen using my iPhone light to see and I found this can wedged there that said Share A Coke with A Buddy. It was a bit of fate.
How would you describe the vibe of your venue?
D: Pretty laid back, not very pretentious, very cruisey place to meet and greet and hang out with some strangers or friends.
J: Definitely a house party. People come in and feel like we see people’s hips itching for a dance and people top themselves off with a drink like you would at a house party; grab a random drink from the fridge, or tap wall, and have a conversation with a stranger over a drink.
Is there anything you’ve learned along the way you wish you’d known earlier?
J: (Laughs) Yeah, I guess I definitely have learnt that you get absolutely no sleep. I didn’t see my housemates for three months, pretty much our whole social life was non-existent, we were absolutely living and breathing the venue. That’s what you have to expect; minimal sleep and no friends so try to call your family as much as you can, you need that or you’ll burn out.
D: How willing everyone is to help out. You run into people, you tell them they’re opening a bar and their ears prick up. People are so willing to pitch in and lend a hand so they can come in and have a beer.
Have there been any standout moments in your time as a venue owner?
J: Opening the doors for that very first time and welcoming complete strangers, people that had nothing to do with the venue but came in off the street as soon as we opened the doors and they were here ‘til close the first night. After ten months of the gruelling hard work, having that tangible reward of seeing people coming into the venue, enjoying the space, smiling and chatting with strangers was all worth it.
D: The DA process was a real lengthy pain in the ass. We got the approval and the guy said you guys are good to go and we were exhausted because we’d been up for three days straight. That was cool.
What local breweries are impressing you most right now?
J: We have been taking a few beers from the Sailors Grave guys over the border in Victoria. We’ve been impressed by a number of their beers lately; we got them to do a tap takeover, they do sours, goses, IPAs and everything in between. Incredible beer and great guys.
D: I grew up in Mollymook and Dangerous Ales are killing it. One day we hit up the reps to get their Killer Raspberry Sour in: every glass was full of glowing red ale, that was a hit.
How did you go about deciding your tap offering?
D: When we were building, our mantra was to go as mental as we can. We were going to go 40 taps but we realised the restraints. We've got 16 beer taps – the rest wine and cocktails – Jimmy does most of the beer if I’m telling the truth.
J: During Monday mornings we’ll sit down and look at the taps; what have we sold out of, what went well over the weekend, we’ll have a flick through couple of the online platforms, emails from suppliers about limited releases and see what jumps out at us as well as getting through the samples in the cool rooms. Anything that jumps out we’ll order one keg of those.
You’ve got three beers to turn a newcomer onto craft beer: what are they and why?
D: I always push them on the Buddy’s Lager. It's pretty non-offensive, easy-drinking, really good craft beer. The next one is the Atomic Mando Sour, which is a great little gateway into getting into beer on the sour front. I'm pretty partial to a hazy beer or something with a little more hops on it. I quite like the Philter Hazy Lager.
J: I’d have to say the Sailors Grave UNI, which is the lemon myrtle sea urchin sour. That was the first keg we ever received and we, including all the tradies and mates who helped out, didn't get to sell it because we drank before doors opened! There were a couple of guys who had never tried anything but a VB or Reschs who would never try that sour but it went so fast, it was a great gateway into craft beer.
I’d have to agree with Duncan on the Atomic Mando Sour, super easy-drinking, inoffensive, people who have never tried a sour get that push on to something different, people try the Mando Sour and continue to work their way across the wall. The last one would be the Matso's Mango Beer – working as a rep for Matso's for the last couple of years I heard on multiple occasions that people said the mango beer got them into beer; one person in particular was working in a craft beer store because of that beer they tried years ago.