Sydney-based journalist Amy Cooper created Bars March nine years ago. Today, Australia’s only month-long celebration of bar culture for animal charities is a much-loved highlight on the social calendar.
Bars March… What’s the story?
We are the cheeky antidote to abstinence! While there are many go-dry-for-a-month fundraising initiatives across the year, we encourage participants to raise money by enjoying our special Bars March alcoholic drinks responsibly in a range of venues that showcase this country’s vibrant bar culture. Our motto is good times for a good cause, and we've shown over the years that it’s a winning formula. I certainly can’t think of a more enjoyable way to raise money, except perhaps by providing comprehensive massage services to Ryan Gosling, but nobody’s ever offered to pay us for that.
The Bars March call to action is ‘have a drink, save a dog.’ How does that work?
Every time someone buys one of the special Bars March cocktails at a participating venue, that host bar donates a slice of the price to Animal Welfare League NSW and similar animal causes. The money goes directly to rehoming, caring for and saving the lives of abandoned and mistreated animals.
Drinks and dogs – makes sense to us, but please explain that connection a little more.
I have always loved animals and I am very lucky to have had some amazing dogs choose me as their friends over the years. They’ve taught me that nobody knows how to enjoy life better than a dog does. Dogs bring people together, they make us smile and laugh, they diminish our stress. The only thing better than a cold beer or delicious cocktail is enjoying that drink with your dog beside you – preferably in a great pub. Imagine if your dog could shout you a drink - you’d never have to pay a bar tab again. To me, these companions who give so much and ask for so little symbolise the whole Bars March ethos of people joining together to celebrate and do good.
You’re a journalist. They love a drink, right?
Famously, yes. And my job had a lot to do with the creation of Bars March. I was the party reporter for the Sun-Herald’s S section for many years, and saw numerous invitations for launches of dry months. I felt something was missing from the equation: fun. And in my work writing about drinks and food for publications such as the SMH’s Good Food, I’ve developed an appreciation and admiration for this country’s hospitality community. It’s a tough industry that demands creativity, talent and determination to succeed. Bars March is also about applauding those people.
How do you promote responsible drinking for Bars March?
We encourage our participants to socialise: head out to a great bar with friends, eat some delicious food there and try a couple of well-crafted cocktails, really savouring the flavours and the skill that went into those drinks. It's a total experience. It's mindful, if you want to get really spiritual. And it’s how most adults prefer to drink. I am weary of the emphasis on negative aspects of drinking culture and the over-regulation that comes with it. We have world-class bars here and responsible operators striving to put our cities on the global hospitality map. Let's try not to forget that. I fully support the work of Keep Sydney Open and The Nighttime Industries Association, but isn’t it sad that they have so much work to do?
Some Bars March wins?
We're proud to have raised around $80,000 for Animal Welfare League over the years. Every year the venues - and their customers - amaze me with their generosity. Last year, for example, the CBD’s O Bar Dining raised $3,508 for Animal Welfare League NSW, selling 1,754 Unleashed cocktails over the month.
I hope that we've thrown a spotlight on some of the many positives of Sydney's bar scene. We've communicated a strong message of responsible drinking, and I know for sure that we've brought a lot of fun to a lot of people and their four-legged friends.
Who gets involved?
Our venues represent a wide sample of the bar scene, and over the years we’ve had participants from large groups such as Solotel and Merivale to craft-focused independents such as The Barber Shop, Lobo Plantation and Whirly Bird. We’ve had hotel bars, beach bars, city bars, and plenty of wonderful pubs putting on beers and food specials. Some, such as The Carrington and Public House Petersham, are dog-friendly and hold events where you can bring your furry friends along.
This year we’re accepting participants from other cities in addition to Sydney, and I’m excited to see some very well-regarded Melbourne venues such as Loch & Key and Rum Diary aboard.
We also rely on sterling support from talented creatives; notable Sydney Design Social, who have been kind enough to lend their skills for the last four years.
Your go-to spirit-lifter:
A peaty single malt (I'm Scottish born), a rhum agricole, or a nice cup of tea.
My dad's homebrew. We call it Chateau Cooper. It used to render my friends unconscious at school discos. Needless to say, they did not drink it responsibly.
It depends on the time of day. Breakfast time: Bloody Mary, heavy on the spice. Lunchtime: a nice long gin and tonic. Afternoon: something rum, Tiki and fun, like a Mai Tai or a Daiquiri. Nighttime: Negroni. But that’s just today. It could be different tomorrow. That's the beauty of cocktails – there is one for every moment and mood.
Thanks to Amy for contributing to our first guest blog post!
If you'd like to contribute by donating a portion of sales to animal welfare, register your venue for Bars March below!