Bartender Profile: Sheena Cullan

From an early start in hospitality to becoming a fire-breathing business owner and Vice President of the Australian Bartenders Guild, we present Sheena Cullan in our Bartender Profile series.

Sheena Cullan
Sheena Cullan – Photo Credit: Toby Hartcher – used with permission

Tell us a little about yourself, your family and where you grew up.
I was born in Camden, NSW on Halloween 1983. My family is from Campbelltown. I lived and breathed the area till about a year ago when I relocated to Waterloo with my 4 year old daughter Marli, and my fairing, fire-breathing fiancé, Toby. Both my parents are profoundly deaf and we use sign language as our everyday communication. It’s super fascinating! I also have a gorgeous sister, Barbara who is the serial traveller of the century.

How did you get into bartending?
My English teacher was adamant that I consider the hospitality industry. I thought “yeah, sounds alright” and I signed up for the Joint TAFE NSW and Schools program. Later I completed the Diploma of Hospitality (Management) but I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want to be a Chef! The Diploma included a Bar and RSA course. That’s when I saw the light!

Tell us a little about your bartending career.
I’ve been working as a bartender for 12 years, bartending and managing some awesome venues such as Hotel Bondi, World Bar, The Wentworth, Aurora Bar & Lounge, Cruise Bar and Goldfish Kings Cross.

During the early days I entered many local cocktail competitions, especially with Suntory Australia (Hi Nigel!). In 2011, I was a finalist in the AHA Bartender of the Year Awards and won the C.INC Company Employee of the Year for Cruise Bar, Coogee Bay Hotel, The Crest, Key Largo and The Bourbon. In 2012, I became Head Bartender of Goldfish Kings Cross during its heyday (thanks Ben Walsh)!

Whilst managing at Cruise Bar, I met my partner Toby who convinced me to get involved with the Australian Bartenders Guild (ABG). I have since become Vice President for Australia.

What are some of the highlights of your role as Vice President for the ABG?
I flew with the ABG to Prague for the 2013 IBA World Cocktail Championships where I was team captain and coach for the current Australian classic bartending champion. Robin Gairhe placed 4th in the world and it was a dream trip. I was lucky to be invited and compete in the prestige ‘Mattoni Grand Prix Sparkling Cocktail Championships’ in Prague. It was brilliant!

What is your most memorable bartending experience to date?
Competing in the ‘International Bartenders Associations (IBA)’ 18th Golden Cup in Taiwan. I placed 4th and my cocktail came in first with Points. It was one of the most memorable and humbling bartending experiences to date.

Also, travelling as an ABG Delegate with the Australian Bartending Team to Beijing for the IBA World Cocktail Championships where I was Training Technical Judge.

You’re also co-owner of FIREFLI BARS with your partner Toby. What does your business involve?
FIREFLI BARS is an elite mobile bartending service. We specialize in premium cocktail bartending, flair bartending and we perform routine fire flair shows Australia wide.

How difficult is it to become a fire-breathing flair bartender?
As far as I am aware I am currently the only trained female fire flair bartender performing in Australia. It takes a lot of practice and balls to breath fire whilst spinning lit liquor bottles in the air. I do not encourage anyone to ‘try this at home’ (as injuries could vary from third degree burns and even death). Toby and I always train under the strictest safety measures. ALWAYS practice with an experienced trainer and never fire breath under the influence.

Who has been an influence or a source of inspiration to you?
Firstly, Mr Lew Gemell was my guide and mentor for the 5 years I was at Cruise Bar. Lew was the General Manager and offered me every opportunity I needed to succeed in life and the business. I will always be thankful.

The wonderful Mr Alex Beaumont is my guide in these years. Alex has achieved so much for Australian and International Bartending that there could be no one better for me to follow suit.

What are some of the challenges you face as a bartender?
I face the same challenges as every bartender: long nights, no sleep. In this industry, it’s not a matter of being male or female to get ahead. It’s about putting the love and passion of the Job first. I spent some lonely and tiresome years getting to where I am today and it wasn’t an easy road. I sacrificed family, friends and life in general for the long hours of our industry. It’s always been my love and passion for hospitality and genuine service that has kept me pushing further.

How do you see the Sydney bar scene evolving in the near future?
Lots of outer suburb venues will start to take off due to circumstances. We can already see great new bars popping up around town. I know I’m pretty pleased to see my local Redfern area enjoy 3 new cocktail bars.

When you’re not behind the bar, what do you like to drink?
You could offer me a Dark n Stormy, Traditional Daiquiri, Tommy’s Margarita or a Jack & Coke and I’ll be super happy.

And finally, is there a special cocktail of your creation that you’d like to share with Gourmantic?
Friskay Bison
50ml Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka
20ml Massenez Pomme Verte (Green Apple)
20ml Fresh Lemon Juice
60ml Cloudy Apple Juice
Bar Spoon Homemade Lime and Vanilla Jam

Shake and dump into Tall Glass
Top with Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic and Ice
Garnish with an Apple Fan, Enjoy!

The Bartender Profile series continues next week.


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About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List since 2013, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.