Nolan Hirte began to build his café Proud Mary in Melbourne in 2009, right about the time the rest of the world was lashing down every asset and bit of property before the global financial tsunami swept through. He had just sold his second café, Liar Liar, which gave him the means to design a dream shop that could showcase many coffees every day. He wanted Proud Mary to be “a place where people could go, flip out, and just enjoy it. Even come to work and say, what is on today, what are we drinking today, and be excited,” says the New Zealand transplant. “So I just bought as many crazy different coffees as I could get my hands on.”
Nolan built most of the shop himself based on his own design. He had it just right when he opened, ready to follow the American walk-up-and-order model for both coffee and their full food menu. “And Melbourne hated it. It didn’t work; I just pissed people off,” he says. “So I had to adapt, and within a month I realized my error and we started table service.”
That type of adaptation proved the norm for Proud Mary, most of all at the bar. When the café opened, it featured a Clover brewer and a large siphon bar. The Clover fell out of favor, as it did elsewhere, and the siphon bar was paired down to make room for the more popular pour-overs. Enough grinders were added that now each burr only mills a specific single-origin bean each day.
“I’ve always had the theory that with coffee, you have to be flexible, you have to learn to adapt and evolve and change and not hold onto things,” Nolan says. The bar’s versatility has allowed that flexibility. “I love this bar,” he say. “You can brew coffee and not get in the way of someone. You can work espresso. It’s really cohesive. And you can change the tunes, man, that’s an important thing; you can drop beats while you’re doing all of it.”
1. The Turntable: “It’s a killer sound system,” owner Nolan Hirte says. “That was the most crucial thing, it was the first thing I bought.” Nolan used to DJ, so there’s a deep bench of records available and Proud Mary plays just about any style.
2. The Hoppers: These are the six coffees available for pour-overs daily. The hoppers are an easy storage container for baristas to pull down, open, weigh, and replace.
3. Grinders, Part 1: There are a lot of grinders at this bar, but that’s to fulfill one principle: one roast, one grinder, one group head. Proud Mary features at least two espressos each day and each is sent through its own grinder when drunk straight-up.
4. Coffee Fridge: These refrigerators hold Proud Mary’s coffee at a constant sixty-six degrees (nineteen Celsius). This ensures “the coffee doesn’t get a big fluctuation in temperature, which for Australia is a big issue in summertime,” Nolan says. “If it’s forty-five C (113 Fahrenheit) outside, you know, your coffee’s going to go to crap pretty quick.”
5. Pour-overs: “No matter where you sit in this place, when we do a siphon on this bar everyone can see it. It really grabs attention.” When Proud Mary opened, this space held a Clover and large siphon bar. The Clover was dispatched a while ago, but the current V60 setup only arrived last December.
6. Grinders, Part 2: Until recently these three grinders processed espresso blends, which were numerous. Now, Proud Mary focuses on single origins and these beans are destined for milk drinks.
7. The Till: “You guys would probably call this a restaurant,” Nolan says of Americans. “No one is lining up, everyone sits down.” During the week, three baristas are joined by five or six servers and hosts, along with four kitchen staff slinging a scrumptious menu. “It’s the same level we take the coffee to,” says Nolan.
8. Six-headed Monster: The three groups on the right are devoted to straight shots. The remainder handle milk drinks.
9. Concrete Sink: In the early twentieth century, Australian families washed their laundry in these. Most often these days they’re used as feeding troughs or garden containers.
—Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup’s editor.