He’s the charismatic Irishman who’s been shaking up the Coast’s cocktail scene for the last five years but as of 2018; Terry O’Donnell is stepping out solo.
Now though, Terry and his cocktail making bar biz, The Irish Shakes, are coming to a party near you. At your house if you like (and trust us, you’ll like).
We sat down for a chat with Terry about coming up with the tastiest of flavour combinations and how you can have him to shake things up at your next party.
How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
I arrived on the Gold Coast around September 2012, originally to do my farm work because us immigrants need to do our public service for the Australian good. After the farm work, I started working in Onyx in Broadbeach so that was my first bar work on the Coast. It was super fun working there. I came to Australia because I spent time working in East Hampton and I loved how happy people were at the beach. Ireland seasonally affects a lot of people; it’s a completely different culture. I love getting up early with morning sun, in Ireland its dark for so long and that does really affect me. That’s what I think subconsciously drew me to Australia.
What do you love most about living here?
Well the weather obviously but the people as well. I love how stoked everyone is to live here; it’s something I haven’t experienced. In Ireland a lot of the time, your first thing is to complain about the weather, not always but there is that sort of feeling here where people are generally super happy. It changes your whole vibe. Even when I lived I Sydney, it wasn’t the same as the Coast. So I love the vibe of this town.
Tell me about The Irish Shakes and how you got to where you are…
I got the idea for The Irish Shakes when I was working at Justin Lane. I had heard about the guys at Justin Lane when I was managing the bar at Bonita Bonita at the time, which was my first time writing cocktail menus. I learnt a lot there about how we constantly need to learn in hospitality. The bar at Bonita was quite separate so I also learnt a lot about not just having a good cocktail list but how to create a good vibe and have good customer service.
After Bonita I knew I had to learn more if I wanted to go somewhere. I saw the guys at Justin Lane knew a lot about how to run a business so when I got there I paid attention to what they were doing well and tried to learn from them. A couple of customers I knew from Bonita started to come in for drinks and they kind of became friends. One of them was having a 40th and asked me to come bartend so I said yes, bought a bit of gear and went and did it out of their kitchen sink. That was the first one. It was really fun and I felt like I could definitely do it all the time. Then I started to think about it and talk to James from Anchored Cinema and he said it was a good idea so that’s where it started. I had a lot of help from James and last year I made it into an official business. The first year was all about learning, getting more equipment, learning how to cater to 40 people on my own and having the setup where I could do it alone.
I did a lot of house parties and learnt a lot about how to run things. I wanted to offer a more affordable style of service where I could do smaller parties, like 20 or so people but then also cater to bigger parties with say 200 people. The people I bring to work with me at parties are from the best bars on the Gold Coast a lot of the time – Etsu, Aloha, the top bar tenders who know exactly what they’re doing.
What happens when people hire The Irish Shakes for a party?
We work with people every step of the way. I usually ask them their favourite cocktails and get an idea about how much interest they have in picking them. Sometimes people just want me to do it so we work out the budget and break things down for them. We look after all the ingredients as well, prep them all and bring them to the party.
Which venues have you created cocktails menus for?
I’ve always been really interested in the consulting side of things and the first project I did was at Sandbar in Surfers Paradise. They wanted a rebrand of what was an institution in Surfers Paradise; everyone knew the place for their buffet and beers so Jake got me in and I did 21 cocktails for them. I like to find out the clientele and work a cocktail list around what the venue sees that clientele drinking, which can be a challenge in Surfers. We had a lot of classics and a lot of beach style tiki drinks then did girlier styles and some a bit more targeted to men and then some morning ones too. That’s where I saw myself getting more into consulting. I just finished at project with No Name Lane and I did a classic menu with Hellenika, which was cool. I enjoy creating cocktail and wine lists that really compliment the food and vibe of a venue.
Do you have a personal fave from your long list of creations?
Bonita was the first menu I did that started to gain a little bit of recognition in the media cocktail comps. The first year we did it, we won best cocktails on the Coast and that’s when I realised I do make alright drinks. I love Mezcal and being able to play around with Mezcal drinks in Bonita was awesome. Making a Mezcal old fashioned with chocolate bitters, that was one of my favourites, with a nice big ice ball with orange frozen in the middle, I loved that. At No Name Lane most of them I liked but the Lemon Sorbet Spritz is really, really tasty. We made an Acai Berry Mojito with Acai puree and an Acai syrup, which was delicious.
What do you drink when you go out?
I had an AWESOME Negroni in Iku last night from Adam Bastow, he’s next level. He made his own Vermouth and he had an Australian-style Campari and an Australian gin, it was unreal. One of the nicest Negronis I’ve ever had. I like boozy drinks, I don’t like much fruit juice andI like the alcohols in cocktails to compliment each other.
What are your thoughts on the Coast’s growing food and beverage scene?
I love it. When I have money I go out and spend it and I think you have to find a balance and not go out and blow all your earnings on beautiful dinners. But, places like Lupo and Harry’s have unbelievable Chefs, even Josh at No Name Lane, they’re incredible so it’s hard not to go out. I hear a lot of people say the Coast is behind Melbourne and Sydney in terms of food and drink but I think that gap is getting much smaller. The quality of bar tenders up here is getting so good too. Mitch and Nerissa have created some of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at in the world (Etsu, Iku and Commune), their eye for detail is incredible. The Coast’s scene definitely suits my personality, which is why I’m still loving all of this.
Anything exciting in the pipeline?
I’m looking to grow the consultancy side of things a lot but I’m also looking to a couple of projects with the bartenders I mentioned. I want to try and grow bar tending on the Coast because I’ve always found that trying to get quality people that are willing to learn is quite hard. I want to do a traineeship for young guys coming up, so not like a Tafe thing but more cocktail based and learning from people who in the industry at the moment. I think there’s definitely a lot of people keen to get involved.
Got any life advice for us?
Probably that money is not a driving factor in life. Personally I’d rather be creative, be my own boss and make whatever money I make. I don’t think people realise a lot of the time you’re selling your time to someone. I think if you try to be yourself as much as possible, the Universe reciprocates that and gives you things that will make you happy.
Tell us your favourites on the Coast…
Restaurant: At the moment Lupo in Mermaid, unbelievable food, great wine, great vibes. Etsu, Iku, Commune. Sparrow is great, so underrated
Bar: Cambus Wallace is number one in my heart, can’t fault it
Beach: It’d have to be Burleigh
How does your weekend usually look: On the wrong side of the bar, serving drinks