“Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and work your way up.”
Girl power goes along way to balance a bar crew on a busy night. In the midst of a male dominated trade of singing drinks it takes a certain sass and swag to pull off top end bartending with confidence and skill and to be matched as an equal against the boys. Billie-Jean Bray currently serves as bartender to the Valley in Brisbane’s iconic Gresham but it wasn’t always that way. She now features as an educator of our Gin Education and the FDM took and moment to find out a little more about what makes this ‘fame de la bar’ tick.
FDM – Tell us about your introduction to the drinks industry?
My curiosity for cocktails and bartending started off when I was working as a barista in Newcastle. I was asked to work a few nights when the cafe turned into more of a face paced restaurant. I started making the house cocktails then introduced weekly specials that I created with help from the head chef. I was hooked on flavours after that.
FDM – Where did the Cocktail Bug first bite?
When I was 17 I ordered hundreds of dollars worth of booze from the restaurant I worked at and held a cocktail party for all of my friends. You better believe there was plenty of Midori and Malibu, and of course a blender! I printed classic cocktail specs that I grabbed from the internet. I was pretty much a pro from here onwards.
FDM – Who was the Yoda to your Jedi skills?
Alex Boon was my first even mentor when I first moved to Brisbane. Since then Ryan Lane, Mathew Hewit and Brendon Osmers have been the people that I look to for skill and knowledge.
FDM – Give us a pearl of wisdom?
Being a bartender can take its toll. Never put Someone else’s business before your own health. Know when to take a break.. eat well, see some sunshine, read a book and enjoy your life.
FDM – We’ve all cocked up on shift – What’s your worst??
Destroying every speed poured at an attempt to clean them while doing a rockstar shift would have to be up there. Oops.
FDM – Is there a moment when you fell in love with it??
The first night that we opened the Gresham. We had finished setting up the bar, placed all the bottles on the backbar and had a shot of whisky. We waited and watched everyone’s eyes light up as they walked in. That was magic.
FDM – What one change would you make to improve our industry?
I would like to see a better support network for bartenders who struggle with alcoholism and mental health issues.
FDM – How would you advise a bartender to make extra cash?
Be nice and be knowledgeable. That’s what it takes to get into good bars that pay well and it also helps to make those tips.
FDM – Is girl power behind the bar something you use to your advantage, if so, how?
Yes! I have always tried to be as good or better than the guys that I work with. I’m competitive like that! As long as you pull your weight and do your study, boobs won’t get in the way of you being a good bartender. (Sometimes they do, but you know what I mean). Ladies make great bartenders and should be treated with the upmost respect.
FDM – You and gin, tell us about your love affair and where it all began?
My first martini I ever had at the Gin Palace, Melbourne. It was like drinking the tears of an angel. Since then I haven’t been able to get enough of the stuff.
FDM – Education must have played a role in your rise up the ranks, what’s an important takeaway from your time spent learning you can pass on to others?
Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and work your way up. I spent 6 months polishing glasses and reading books before I qualified to be a bartender at the Gresham. If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, you better know it the next time they ask. My word of advise would be to not be ashamed to admit you don’t know something, asking questions and talking with your colleagues is the best way to learn. Be open to learning. Also, jump on the FDM, there’s obviously heaps of things to learn here.
FDM – What does the future vision of BJB hold? What’s on the horizon?
I’m working on finding a role that would involve me traveling and spreading the word of the industry I am passionate about. I set big goals because if people aren’t scoffing at your goals, your goals are too small. I will always do the things I love.