Jamie Fleming, owner, Alba Bar & Deli
More variety means more things to see, more reasons for people to come out and a better nightlife for everyone to enjoy ...
While we’re sure that there are a few of you out there that have tossed around the idea of opening a bar, there’s probably not many of you that considered it when you were 12. Alba Bar & Deli owner Jamie Fleming is wired a bit differently. Jamie lives and breathes hospitality, having worked in and around the industry for much of his life. While couch potatoes might recognise Jamie from his appearance on the 2014 season of MasterChef, denizens of Brisbane City will remember his smiling face from behind the counter at Alba Bar & Deli – the New York and San Sebastian-inspired bar Jamie launched in 2019. Alba has become one of The City’s buzziest nightspots, thanks in no small part to Jamie’s infectious enthusiasm and belief in making the inner-city bar scene as good as it can be. We had a chat to Jamie about what makes him tick and how he keeps his bar at the top of the heap.
When we first popped into Alba in May 2019, you mentioned to us that at age 12 you declared that you would open a bar by the time you were 30. What is it about hospitality that you’re so drawn to and has operating Alba been anything like you envisioned it would be when you were young?
Hospitality is community for me. We grew up as regulars at a few local restaurants and it was always a time you were present at the table with family or friends. Being in dining rooms always felt like home for me and I loved the idea of giving that to others. Considering both myself and my brother ended up in the game, I guess it wasn’t just me. Now he makes Threefold Gin and I sell it!
Alba Bar & Deli’s vibe is described as ‘Brooklyn meets Barcelona in Brisbane’ – can you give us a little bit of insight into how these cities helped shape your vision for the bar’s identity?
Alliteration is key, haha! In all seriousness, I think Brooklyn and Barcelona represent the kind of cool, left-of-centre, bustling hubs of culture that I would love to see Brisbane become. There is some world-class talent in this city and I think more people need to take risks and open things that don’t look and feel the same.
Alba has remained one of Brisbane’s most popular drinking spots since it opened. What is it about the bar that you think has helped make it so successful?
It’s a neighbourhood bar in the CBD. Everyone who has worked at Alba have come from working at top-tier venues and have spent years learning their craft. Alba is a spot we can showcase that, in the business end of town but still remain casual. We have a top tier offering – we’d just rather do it in sneakers and a T-shirt and I think that’s what brings people back.
What is your ethos when it comes to keeping Alba’s food and drink offering exciting and enticing for newcomers and regulars alike?
Keep it simple. Great produce, treated well with little nods to the cuisines we love. Obviously Spain is a big influence for us, but it’s certainly not restricted. At the end of the day, whether it’s wine, food or our ever-changing cocktail offering, it just has to be delicious.
On that note, what’s new on Alba’s menu or behind the bar that you’d suggest folks make the effort to come in and try right now?
Obviously our cocktails are changing pretty regularly, but we are currently using a lot of the summer berries we pickled this year in both the drinks and food. A couple of my favourites on the list at the moment use our pickled blueberries. The berries themselves go into our duck-leg terrine, while the brine is absolutely delicious and is going into a little tequila, grapefruit and rhubarb milk clarification.
Alba is part of a great inner-city small-bar community, alongside Burnett Lane neighbours Death & Taxes and Super Whatnot. What do you think is the best thing about being based in the heart of Brisbane City?
I mean, I hate to state the obvious but it’s being so central. I have always loved working in the heart of a city because of the sheer amount of people from different walks of life you get to interact with. I think people are starting to move away from this idea that the CBD is just for work, which is great.
Being based in The City, you must know plenty of hidden treasures nearby. When not stuck behind the bar, what are some of your favourite unheralded spots you go to to drink, dine and unwind?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say LUCHA Kitchen + Bar for some crispy skinned chicken and a beer at lunch. Matt and the team at Leonard’s Bar & Bistro and Dawn on Spencer have put together something really cool for a cheeky cocktail or two. Then, if I’m out a little later, I do love a pint of Guinness at The Gresham before seeing some live music at Brooklyn Standard. Sounds like a bloody good day to me!
What advice would you offer folks looking to get into the Brisbane bar game moving forward?
Do it! And do something different. The reason people love Melbourne’s nightlife is because it’s diverse and there is something for every taste. More variety means more things to see, more reasons for people to come out and a better nightlife for everyone to enjoy!
Image: Markus Ravik