One lunch with Ian Callahan later, and we’re now convinced we know pretty much everything there is to know about the world of coffee.
Ian Callahan is one of Adelaide’s most renowned connoisseurs of quality caffeinated goods and also owner of niche coffee specialist boutique, Bar 9. We caught up with Ian last week in the hopes of finding out just a little bit more about Bar 9 and, instead, we discovered a whirlwind of truly inspiring stories accompanied by a deep passion for coffee and business combined.
From starting as a dishy working those dreadful midnight shifts at Pancake Kitchen to becoming a successful business-owner and award-winning barista, Ian has well and truly made his mark on the Adelaide hospitality scene. This local entrepreneur is a former State Barista Champion and has been judging with the Australian Specialty Coffee Association ever since, also acquiring his Q-Graders certificate in Coffee (being one of two Q-Graders in Adelaide and one in a thousand around the world!). Ian has also been engaging in a number of his own business projects along the way, one of which is Bar 9.
It took Ian 6 years of convincing himself and everyone around him that he was going to open a cafe before the doors to Bar 9 finally swung open, settling into a small spot in Eastwood (across from where Bar 9 is today). At first, the fitout merely consisted of a coffee machine on a desk, surrounded by three tables and limited standing area.
“The first three months were gut-wrenching. There were no customers, just a couple of coffee nerds hanging out,” Ian describes his first experiences as a cafe owner, “The people who hung out at Bar 9 were all fellow coffee fanatics, but also our close friends, so we did’t want to charge them for anything! We were beginning to make significant losses.”
Follow Ian’s personal Instagram @bar9ian to see more of his adventurous escapdes.
The money they did have, however, was spent wisely on substance rather than fancy furniture and design. Ian and his initial business partner Brad Nixon focused on stocking the best grinders, the best beans, the best milk – the best of everything the two could get their hands on. So, despite the slow start, there’s no denying Bar 9 was being built on a foundation of quality that was soon to get noticed by the masses.
At the time, Adelaide was lacking creative coffee methods – no one was really thinking outside of the box or innovating; this was where Ian stepped in. From day one, Bar 9 were experimenting with filter coffees, trying out blends and single origin coffee, and basically just giving everything a shot. The media started to notice and, in turn, Bar 9 got some great coverage which led to a sharp increase in customers over a short period of time.
“People starting piling in, I think with a perception that Bar 9 was bigger than it really was,” Ian explained, “We were were freaking out like: Crap! We’ve only got three tables!” So, the Bar 9 team packed their bags and moved home… directly across the road.
Bar 9 Today
Upon stepping into the space, Bar 9’s inherently rustic fitout and homely vibe immediately sets the scene for patrons to relax, unwind and let themselves comfortably sink into a steaming hot cup of coffee. Timber tables and chairs line the room against the calming, muted blue and off-white walls of a gorgeous old-style building. On these walls, we see some quirky artwork from local artists and also some simply drawn up by friends of friends, featuring some convivial coffee squiggles.
In the next room over, Ian has literally reconstructed his old childhood loungeroom, creating a living room corner which is playfully characterised by his twelve-year-old self’s belongings. “Initially it was a dollar driven thing since we didn’t have too much money,” he says, “Although it’s not a polished look, it is very rustic and I like that the cafe feels lived in right from day one.”
“Yes, there are places in Adelaide that you can go for a quality breakfast bacon and egg dish, but for the most part, it’s almost like you have to step into a fine dining setting and dress accordingly,” Ian goes on to explain about the nature of Bar 9’s setting, “But for me, breakfast should be something you should be able to rock up to in trackies and thongs, even if its 1pm in the afternoon! You should be able to roll in comfortably, and that’s what we’re aiming for with Bar 9’s approachable fitout.”
Most of Bar 9’s chefs have come from a fine dining background, desperate to get away from the lifestyle of working every Friday and Saturday night for the rest of their lives. This kind of background gives way to an intrinsically unique and ever-evolving menu, whereby the chefs mix and match flavours to create dishes pretty much worthy of a five-star premium restaurant. And oh boy, let us tell you, Bar 9’s food really is mind-blowing.
When we sat down for lunch with Ian at Bar 9, we received excellent service right from the get go, being greeted with smiles as we were offered their latest lunch menu on arrival. We flipped through the first few pages and were instantly spoiled for choice. As Kristen and I tend to do, we started to get rather flustered about all the delicious options on offer. “But I want this!” “No but we have to get this, it’s the signature dish.” “I feel like this one would photograph better though?”
With Ian’s much needed help, we end up reaching consensus (eventually) on three divine dishes: the Fun Guy Sangas, Truffled Mushroom Ragu and one of the dishes on special which we forgot to note down the name of because we were too busy arguing over the choices.
The Fun Guy Sangas certainly was fun, combining roasted field mushroom, fried haloumi, pickled red onion, spiced yoghurt and rocket into one lightly toasted sandwich. Served with a side of fries and salad, the dish was simple but oh-so-filling, and the flavours complimented one another so effortlessly that we pretty much inhaled it upon first bite. Anything with haloumi gets a 10/10 from us.
The Truffled Mushroom Ragu was the most impressive dish of the day, with a creamy consistency in texture that really only a fine dining chef could achieve. Ian called this Bar 9’s signature dish, which is served with poached eggs, watercress, truffled honey and ciabatta. It was savoury yet sweet, and never once overpowering despite the rich nature of the truffle. The bread-to-mushroom ratio was also so on point that the entire dish was just a beautifully balanced masterpiece, really.
Our final choice (the special) somewhat acted as a lunch-dessert, combining sweet peaches, pomegranate seeds and a caramelised onion relish with goats curd and some leafy greens on crunchy ciabatta. By the time we got to eating this dish, our stomachs were well and truly satisfied, but there’s always room for dessert, right? And we certainly had no regrets. With savoury elements, the fruit and caramelised onion were not sickly-sweet when put together and the strong goats curd made for a lovely counteraction to the sweetness. The dish was light and healthy – a perfect alternative if you’re not feeling like a salad.
Well, isn’t that what we are all here for? As we flipped through the beverages menu at Bar 9, there were two distinct headings that stood out to us: COFFEE and NOT COFFEE. Thanks for making that clearer for us, Bar 9.
Black Label is the seasonal house blend designed by the team behind Bar 9 and is a market-driven product, there to please the general public. “It’s what we think people are going to find yummy,” says Ian, “Black Label has flavour profiles pitched around tasting like a liquid snickers bar.” This particular house blend suits any black or white coffee, and is notably balanced and full-bodied.
The Barista’s Blend is another seasonal blend, but is there to represent the style of coffee that Bar 9’s staff are currently enjoying. “This one is usually a bit more challenging or interesting,” Ian explains the Barista’s Blend, “It might be brighter, might be sweet, might carry a heavier body or might have some weird herbaceous tones. We can’t guarantee that anyone is going to like it!”
Bar 9 also do scrumptious Single Origin coffee and filter coffee, either sourced locally or nationally, or even flown in from overseas! We chose to sip on Four Barrel Coffee‘s Los Duednes filter coffee with our meal, derived directly from the USA. It is described as “composed and elegant, yet juicy” and its flavour profile hints at pink lady apple and butterscotch schnapps. Mmmm, delish!
After a delightful afternoon, we came to the conclusion that Bar 9 is evidentially full of diversity and is always changing to suit current trends and the needs of the people. From coffee, to food, to fitout; everything about this spectacular, niche cafe is one-of-a-kind and inviting at anytime of the day. You can find Bar 9 at 96 Glen Osmond Road, Parkside or, if you’re an inner-city liver, then you can find a mini Bar 9 in Adelaide Central Plaza‘s food court! And be sure to keep your eyes peeled on our website to find out more about another Bar 9 opening in the CBD soon…