Above Board – A Bartender’s dream come true

Jan 17, 2024
Bartenders Corner I amaro, Amaro Montenegro

Above Board founder Hayden Lambert is living the bartender’s dream, running his own bar, his own way, and scooping up a host of awards and prizes in the process. Today we talked to Hayden Lambert about what makes Above Board so different, made him blush when he mentions all the awards his bar has won, and ask him to share his recipe for his signature cocktail at the Best Cocktail Bar in Victoria, 2023.

How did Above Board come about?

“I worked in a pub, I worked in cocktail bars, and then when I came out to Australia I was like, wow, I could own my own Bar, so Above Board came about as a dream of being an independent kind of person.”

What kind of people like to drink at your bar?

“Well, I think it’s a really good mixture. It reflects the neighborhood, which is Collingwood. The greatest thing about this neighborhood is that it changes, it ebbs and flows like the river. I remember my first customers were baristas, young bartenders. We get young professionals, like architects, we get designers, somewhat artsy professionals, people who live a very different lifestyle than the nine to five.”

What’s so unique or different about Above Board?

“Number one, our limited size. It’s intimate, service, intimate space, two bartenders talking, you’re shoulder to shoulder with everybody in that area.”

At Above Board the bar is a giant piece of glossy walnut with only 16 seats and no standing permitted. Above Board does not take any bookings and large groups are not recommended.

“Number two, it’s hard to find, so it’s discrete, like everything in Collingwood. Everything in Melbourne is a little bit harder to find. The fact that it’s down like a driveway means you can’t label it on Google Maps. A lot of people think we’re in an alleyway. Plus, I couldn’t afford a sign when I first opened.”

But the one thing that makes Above Board so different is the complete absence of a back bar – no mass of glistening bottles to draw your attention.

“We don’t openly brand products, we’re more than happy to talk about the products and explain stuff, but we don’t openly brand a lot of the drinks.”

At Above Board the drinks, and the relationship between bartender and patron, are the real heroes.

Tell us about any recent awards you have won and what they mean to you?

“Look, we’ve won a lot of awards since we opened in 2016. We don’t actively try to like hunt down awards.”

You’re blushing!

“I get really embarrassed about the awards. It’s awkward because it’s kind of like, do I deserve an award? But for us, they’re really lovely.”

“They contribute to how people see us and perceive us as a bar and it’s really good to get recognition.”

A quick glance at Above Board’s awards list shows Hayden is being very modest. In 2021, his tiny, hidden venue ranked 44th best cocktail bar in the world. In 2022, Above Board won best cocktail bar in Australia, with Hayden’s Amaro Montenegro-based H.S.L Special awarded 2nd best cocktail in Australia.

What was it about Amaro Montenegro that appeals to you?

“It’s the most delicious Amaro out there and I like it’s complexity. I love the rose water notes, the depth, the balance of bitterness and sweetness, and the aromatics. And I always thought, man, it can be such a great component in cocktails, and no one was using it when I opened Above Board.”

Amaro Montegnegro Tasting Notes

Tell us about your signature cocktail featuring Amaro Montenegro.

“The H.S.L. Special is a funny little drink I came up with while I was building the bar. After thinking about a drink that defined what Above Board would become, I took two simple ideas that I had seen and put them together showcasing Amaro Montenegro at the heart of it.”

“I thought we could do an Amaro-heavy drink that was delicious, that resembled a Bramble, because the Bramble is a fantastic cocktail, and I didn’t see it on cocktail lists in Melbourne. I thought, ‘Let’s take the Bramble in a different direction – and make it my own signature drink’ with Amaro Montenegro and a dash of absinthe.”

How did the H.S.L. Special get its name?

“I got the inspiration from one my absolute bartending heroes – Hugo Ensslin. He’s a German bartender from the 1900s who basically created the Savoy cocktail book, which is a shame because that’s credited to Harry Craddock. Hugo had a cocktail called the Hugo Special, so I decided to call mine the Hayden Scott Lambert, H.S.L. Special. It’s a defining cocktail for Above Board, which is nice. It starts a lot of conversations.”

Can you share the recipe?



The H.S.L. Special

The H.S.L. Special, Above Board’s defining cocktail.


35ml Amaro Montenegro
15ml Creme de Mure
25ml Fresh Lime Juice
7.5ml Sugar Syrup (2:1)
1Dsh Absinthe
Icing sugar

Shake all ingredients over ice. Strain into a sour glass over cracked ice. Garnish with a fresh blackberry dusted with icing sugar.

Bartender's Tip
Any advice for aspiring mixologists or bar owners using Amaro Montenegro in Cocktails?

“Yeah, for sure! I think the versatility of Amaro Montenegro allows you to try different things, and the more you play with it the more you understand. I think a lot of people forget that it works with tropical flavours, like pineapple, coconut and passionfruit. I would advise bartenders to keep it simple. Amaro Montenegro can either be the showstopper, or it can just help amplify other flavours and through that you get this extra bitterness and complexity.”

What upcoming Trends and innovations do you see coming in the cocktail industry? Tell us your big 3.

#1: “In the bartending world, pubs that do amazing cocktails will be on the rise. You know, Pub meets really good cocktail bar. That will be the next big one and you can already see it happening across Australia.”

#2: “The human cost of some of the trends that are going on, and the amount of time and effort that bartenders spend in the bars outside of actual work hours. For us, after lockdown, it was really important to make sure that staff had a really good working week – most of my staff work four days a week.”

#3: “I think what’s going to happen is we’re going to go away from ‘concept kind’ of bars, where you look at the fit out and go,oh, that’s amazing, but the quality of drinks is lacking. So, you’re going to go back to smaller venues, more customer-focused, in a cosy-versus-conceptual atmosphere. This is what we aim for at Above Board, a bar where drinks, not brands, are centre-stage, and bartender/customer relationships are everything.”

You can find the entrance to Above Board down the laneway, just off Smith & Perry Street, directly behind Beermash at 306 Smith St, Collingwood, Melbourne.

If you’d like to stock Amaro Montenegro or Spirit Platform’s curated portfolio of premium products, contact your Spirits Platform Representative today.

Above Board Awards:

Australian Bar Awards

2016 – New Bar
2017 – Small Bar
2018 – Small Bar
2021 – Cocktail list
2021- State – Cocktail bar of the year – Vic
2022 – Cocktail bar of the year
2022 – Hayden, 16th Most influential – Bar awards

50 Best Bars in the World

2018 – 96th
2020- 86th
2021- 44th

Tales of the Cocktail®

2018 – Top10 Cocktail Bars APAC
2019 – Top10 Cocktail Bars APAC
2020 – Top10 Cocktail Bars APAC


Boothby Drink of the Year Awards 2022 – H.S.L Special 2nd best cocktail in Australia
Boothby Best Bars in Victoria 2023 – Best Cocktail Bar


Best Cocktail Bar 2018
Cocktail Bar of the Year 2022

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