28 March 2024

Five minutes with Nate Comben, Cabo

| Claire Sams
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A man in white shirt at apron standing in front of shelf of alcohol bottles

One of Nate Comben’s tips for cocktails is to hand-squeeze your limes for their juices – he promises it’s worth the extra effort. Photo: Claire Sams.

Who are you?

I’m Nate Comben and I’ve been the venue manager at Cabo for about eight months, since we opened.

What are three words to describe yourself?

I’m pretty laid-back and relatively chill. I like to think I’m also a hard worker, very passionate about drinks and the intricate side of bartending.

What is your venue?

We’re a bar with a huge focus on excellent tequila and cocktails with agave spirits as the base. Our mission is to make tequila a bit friendlier. Everyone has a story where they’ve had too many shots of tequila and had a bad night. We’re trying to re-brand the idea of tequila in people’s minds and show it can offer more than a bad hangover.

Cabo menu with popcorn in the background.

The popcorn at Cabo is dusted with ‘tajin’, a Mexican chilli, lime and salt blend, as well as icing sugar for a sweet and salty snack. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

What are the top drinks that really show what tequila is capable of (other than shots)?

General manager Rohan Walsh made our best-seller, called the Tijuana Sunset. It’s got a mango-infused tequila sunset that we make in-house, and it’s fruity, fun and tropical. We do a Bloody Maria, a twist on a classic Bloody Mary. For that, we’ve gone and made our own tomato soup for it with a whole bunch of flavours in it.

READ ALSO PODCAST: Now You Know Damien Brabender, Otis Dining Hall

How did you get involved in the hospitality industry?

I was working as a 2IC in childcare and studying for my diploma, but it just didn’t speak to me. I talked to Rohan, who was working at [what was then] Kokomo, and he suggested I get a job there and try something different. I stayed there for a bit and followed him here [to Lala] later, almost five years ago.

I really enjoyed the social aspect of it, and I like having those chats with customers over the bar and getting to know them a little bit. A lot of the skills you learn working with kids are kind of transferrable to drunk adults!

What is your comfort food?

I’ve always said I could eat tacos every day for the rest of my life, and I’ve pretty much proved myself right over the last seven or eight months. I definitely like slow-cooked Adobo chicken.

Where do you dine out for special occasions?

I have really enjoyed eating at Bar Rochford – that’s always a really nice place. Their seasonal food is always really good, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad meal there. I had a really, really nice dinner at a place called Rubicon a few months ago.

I’ve recently been to a couple of nice bars in Melbourne, and I also really like popping into Molly – even though it is one of our venues [at Lala Hospitality], I think they’re making some fantastic things over there.

Cocktail in small Patron tequila bottle and shot glasses with salt rim

Sip on the Patron Paloma or try the Mini Maria shots at Cabo. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

What is your tip for aspiring cocktail makers?

If you’re buying spirits, don’t spend too much if you’re just using them for cocktails. I will never purchase lime juice – I like to hand-squeeze my limes.

I’d also say that you shouldn’t be afraid to try random stuff you find online. You never know what’s going to be good. Some of the best drinks I’ve ever had have the weirdest ingredients that I’ve ever seen – a Flips uses whole eggs! Any recipe you find, you’ve just got to give it a go.

What was your dream job as a kid?

I’ve had a few different dream jobs. When I was in school, I wanted to work in the IT space – I wanted to make games, to begin with, and then that changed to being a network engineer.

READ ALSO Tumut River Brewing Co to open new venue in Kingston

What is your food philosophy?

When I’m cooking for myself, I’ll definitely follow what someone else has said is a good recipe and follow the rules, for the most part. When it comes to bartending, I like to take a distinct drink and try it with new ingredients or change the measures.

You can make the different flavours pop and – by the end of it – you have a totally new drink. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just putting stuff together until it’s balanced and it tastes good.

An easy one to finish – what’s your go-to coffee order?

Call me basic, but it’s probably an iced caramel latte through the summer and then a long black.

Cabo is located at 27 Northbourne Avenue in Civic and is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 4 pm to 12 am, and from Thursday to Saturday from 4 pm to 2 am.

Along with Cabo, Lala Hospitality has five other venues in Civic: Amici, 88 mph, Molly, Bleachers Sports Bar and Highball. Check out their website for locations and opening times.

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