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Kounta Culture: Uncle Ming’s Bar

When I was 17, I went looking for summer work as a waiter, but was uniformly rejected by all the …

By Dave Eagle

When I was 17, I went looking for summer work as a waiter, but was uniformly rejected by all the restaurants I applied to.  There was something about my demeanor that made interacting with the public a less than ideal employment choice (he wrote, sitting alone in his home basking in silence).  One potential employer went so far as to give me some advice, and I’ll never forget these words and their omnipresent relevance: “You can’t just say, ‘Here’s your food, f&!% you.’”

If I were in advertising, this is the slogan I would use for my Uncle Ming’s Bar campaign, and this is why I’m not in advertising (that, and I have a soul, so I’m disqualified, anyway). But Uncle Ming’s embodies the spirit of this profane expression in the most elegant of ways.  It’s the type of place that serves up an experience alongside the food and drink, starting from the fact that you just can’t find the place.  It’s tucked beneath the buildings on a claustrophobic section of York St in Sydney, just under a suit shop with a small sandwich board meekly announcing its presence.  Once you get inside though, you’re rewarded for your efforts and transported back in time to somewhere that’s a cross between a Chinese tea house and a Shanghai speakeasy.  The ambience is enhanced by the backstory: the bar was built by the Ming himself, back in the 1920’s after he’d retired from his job as the most powerful opium slinger in China.

The menu itself is mostly spirits, of course, because that was Ming’s original vision.  From his trademark “Painkillers”—cocktails like the thai-inspired “The King & Rye,” featuring whisky and kaffir lime leaves—to sake and japanese whisky to house brews, the asian-inspired drink selection is as varied as it is unique.   Rounding out the menu are a variety of street food style snacks—think dumplings, dim sum, and chicken wings—and Uncle Ming’s is the type of place that I’d be tempted to call home if my liver could afford the rent.  I’m not alone in this sentiment, either, with Ming’s garnering lots of praise from its customers all over the place.  The worst thing someone said about it is that Uncle Ming’s is not the place to go if you intend on “rounding second base” with your date, which—I don’t know.  The knowledge that this guy isn’t taking his dates to Ming’s is another selling point for me.

king-and-rye dumplings-uncle-mings

With so many moving parts to manage—one cocktail at Ming’s could affect the inventory of several stock items, including different liquors—owner Justin Best chose to use Kounta to manage all front- and back-of-house operations.  Customising the menu is simple, making it easy to add or remove items as needed; the ability to monitor things remotely, and be able to see exactly how much of each liquor he’s got left from anywhere enables Uncle Ming’s to run smoothly, and focus on what makes the bar one of Sydney’s most unique hangouts.  We’re proud to have the Kounta family extend to our Uncle Ming.