Buddy’s Bar, located in the former Lentil as Anything site on Newtown’s King Street, is a venue that employs an innovative self-service beer wall. 

The idea for a self-service bar first came to Co-Owner Duncan McGeoch at a music festival. 

“I was waiting in line and thought, ‘This f**king sucks’ – like festivals are nice, but here I am 10 people deep in a line not moving,” he says.

The revelation led to a move to a company in the US that specialised in self-service bars, with McGeoch going on to help venues operate their own systems. 

He later returned to Australia and decided to open a bar with business partner Jimmy Roe (Good Drinks Australia). 

“When we first started out, we really wanted something unique with a different offering, and was somewhere people could come in and make buddies,” explains McGeoch. 

Initially, the pair looked at a location further north along King Street before deciding upon the former Lentil as Anything location in February of last year. The bar, which has outdoor seating and large windows opening directly onto King Street, was more or less designed and built from scratch by Roe, McGeoch and their friends. “It was really fitting with the name of Buddy’s because it was built by buddies – all our friends came out of the woodwork and chipped in,” says McGeoch.

Buddy’s has a feature wall of 30 taps, including natural wines and house cocktails, alongside local brews and non-alcoholic kombucha. Drinkers can access the taps themselves under staff supervision and pay using a prepaid card.

“Once you see people interact with it, you end up talking to strangers,” says McGeoch. “So it really is an inviting space where hopefully you can chat to someone else and talk about a product you haven’t tried.”

Roe, too, has noticed the dynamic at the bar: “We’ve designed the space so you walk around, pass through tables and end up chatting to a whole bunch of different people.”

Self-service alcohol obviously raises some questions, both for consumers and for regulators. Bars & Clubs asked McGeoch and Roe to talk through the process of buying a drink at Buddy’s. 

“We’re trying to make it as seamless and quick as possible, we really want that kind of Uber experience,” says McGeoch. “No lines was my whole point [when I started] eight years ago.

“You’ll be greeted at basically a ticketing desk, and there’s one or two staff members saying hi and obviously checking ID and sobriety.

“We’re [also] all prepaid here. It’s basically like buying a prepaid gift card.”

The cards can also be topped up by patrons using a QR code on the back once funds run out.

“Within 30 seconds, you can go over and be greeted by one of our staff at the beer wall who explain how to tap on whenever you pour yourself a beer,” says McGeoch.

To ensure adequate RSA is being maintained, each prepaid card is limited to three standard drinks, determined by millilitres of drinks poured. 

“You pay for the mills that you pour, it’s all about sampling,” says McGeoch.

Once a customer hits three standard drinks, a message displays on the system’s screen, with the technology pausing the card while staff undertake a quick sobriety test of the customer. 

“Our bartenders are more like experience guides, but they are also RSA people who have the power to reactivate someone’s card or say, ‘Maybe just a glass of water for this round,’” says McGeoch.

The Buddy’s model is something new for the drinks sector, with McGeoch hoping the space will contribute to the broader community and industry at large.

“We’re a small business and we want to help other small businesses,” he says.
“We’re trying to showcase breweries that are just down the road. This is kind of like a food hall for beer.” 

Buddy’s is located at 391 King St, and is open from 4pm Wednesday to Friday, and 2pm on weekends.

This story was originally published by Bars & Clubs and has been edited.