In Food + Drink

Sydney’s Gatsby-Style Bar With A Secret Backroom

With its 1920s theme – the era forever associated with prohibition – you’d assume new Sydney bar The Cat’s Meow would be a speakeasy. Surprising, however, it’s not. (Though it does have a secret back area, which we’ll get to later.)

The bar, which opened last December, is housed in a well-known Sydney heritage-listed building, smack-bang on one of the city’s busiest nightlife drags, Oxford Street. It’s steps from Oxford Art Factory and around the corner from actual speakeasy, Shady Pines Saloon. It even has a large sign out front.

But it’s all exactly as owner Henri Azzi intended. “Why speakeasy, when you can roar?” he says, adding that he wants his guests to “swing from the chandelier – not hide underground”.

The chandelier in question? A show-stopping, brass number hand-chosen by the bar’s designer Angus Henderson and located in the venue’s main area, The Vault. Marble tables, velvet stools and big arched windows framed by dramatic drapes complete the scene. Henderson calls it “the glamorous central heart of the bar”.

To the right of the main bar is The Butcher’s Library. Much smaller in size, it’s lined with hardcover books and expensive bottles, and has just six seats. “It’s the dark and moody zone that plays on the notion of food and education and the criminal past of Darlinghurst in the 1920s.”

And finally, there’s the Champagne Room. Narrow and lined with blue velvet seating, it’s a space where anything goes. Caviar, oysters and of course champagne are delivered to tables by trolley and, to ensure utmost privacy, guests are asked to leave their phones in cubbies near the entranceway. Henderson calls it a place to drink in the shadows.

“As soon as I walked into this stunning heritage-listed building, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” says Henderson. “The location for me is special due to its rich history – the infamous reputation of Darlinghurst crafted through adversity, diversity and crime. The combination makes for a compelling design story.”

His biggest challenge? Creating the three distinctive zones within the building’s footprint. “I was eager for us to do so though as I envisioned having a range of tempos and experiences for guests to explore,” he says.

And then there’s the drinks menu. Like the décor, it’s ornate, featuring garnishes like dried grapefruit garnishes, fresh flowers and even chocolate chips. Henderson’s favourite drink is the Spiced Rum and Dry with fresh lime while Azzi’s is the Old Sport.

cat's meow

And finally, there’s the food. Created by French chef Camille Saint–M’leux of Quay and Le Cinq, a three Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris, the menu is grazing-style with locally source ingredients including meats and cheeses. Both Henderson and Azzi agree the croque monsieur, made truffle bechamel, is a favourite.

Since quietly opening its doors late last year, the bar has slowly been getting busier and busier. Azzi says Friday and Saturday nights have seen it packed.

“Everyone is made to feel like they are somebody here,” he says. “Anyone who enters is classed as high society no matter which path they take – the grit or the polish.”

(All images: The Cat’s Meow / supplied)

Published 10 February, 2020