In Food + Drink

Old Mate’s Place: A Hidden Rooftop, Dapper Drinks & Classic Service

Not much is known about the old five-storey building at 199 Clarence Street. A worn sign out front indicates that it was built by the offspring of a late couple who lived nearby. The building was erected in their memory.

Most notably though, the sign suggests that some of the bricks from the couple’s building were repurposed and used to build this new one. It’s that notion of using the foundations of one place for a fresh beginning that the building’s newest occupant taps into.

Old Mate’s Place opened in August 2018, and takes up the top two floors in a space that was once a synagogue. Its founders have all had crucial roles in some of Sydney’s most treasured drinking spots.

Old-Mates-Place Sydney Speakeasy

Old Mate’s Place takes up the top two floors of a building on Clarence Street. Image: Dre Walters

Andres Walters helped open The Lobo Plantation and Kittyhawk. His partner Gabrielle Walters earned her stripes at Black by Ezard. And their close friend Daniel Noble was a big player in Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern and Mojo Record Bar.

The establishment has already been dubbed Sydney’s best new bar. On any given night, its patrons range from after-work suits and hospitality superstars to hipsters and curious tourists. The vast demographic that pour into Old Mate’s Place is difficult to pin down.

Perhaps it’s that the bar provides a true sense of disconnect from the outside world. Its rather plain entryway divides the outside dilapidated building’s façade and the inside’s dark woods, nutty brown leather booths, antique books and diverse flora.

“People want immersion,” says co-owner Noble. “Having that absolute distinct line in the sand creates the beginning of the immersive experience for people.”

Once inside, the atmosphere is both exclusively dapper and endearingly casual. Plants like Japanese peace lillies, pothos, tillandsia and other succulents peep from nook and crannies between thick dusty books. Each plant was carefully chosen by Noble and the team for their oxygenating contributions.

Once the pothos fully grow their tendrils, the plan is to wrap them around the staircase which leads to the second-floor rooftop.

“[The outdoor space] is definitely a drawcard,” says Noble. “But we’re a bar that has a rooftop, as opposed to a rooftop bar”.

More plants frame the small open-air space upstairs. The result is a breezy, charmingly casual area. And it offers a completely different vibe to downstairs.

Where downstairs feels like a cosy old family library that has been around for decades, the rooftop is buzzing and youthful, highly prized for weekend lunch sessions when the bar opens at midday and keeps the rooftop going until 10pm.

But it’s downstairs that truly embodies what Old Mate’s is about, and what the team have sought out to do.

Old-Mates-Place Sydney Speakeasy

The rooftop at Old Mate’s opens at midday and stays open until 10pm. Image: Dre Walters

“When we were developing the concept for this place, we wanted to open a bar that was simply just a bar,” says Noble. “Having an overly themed venue can be polarising.”

So Old Mate’s has been built and hinged completely on fantastic, classic service. It’s friendly, fast, inquisitive and personable, helped along by a small but tight staff that know each other and their customers well.

“All of us have that intrinsic need to communicate with people, that tactile need, and we wanted to reflect that in the venue.”

The hospitable approach is also mirrored by an ever-changing menu that has been intentionally kept simple. Philly cheese steaks and meat and cheese platters feature. Generally, the concoctions whipped up by staff skewer towards classy and refined classics with a few oddballs thrown in. Though there’s nothing too challenging.

Old-Mates-Place Sydney Speakeasy

The main idea behind Old Mate’s drinks is that it always feeds back into service. Image: Dre Walters

Sherry, for example, is an ingredient found in most of their cocktails. It was chosen for its versatility, bringing dry nuttiness, Christmas cake sweetness and spices depending on how you use it.

But the main idea behind the drinks list is that it always feeds back into service. The staff want those who have a set preference to be taken aback by the modest list. The idea is that they approach staff to start a dialogue about what exactly it is they want.

“The actual dialogue between yourself and a customer, where you’re pinpointing exactly what they want to drink, is I think one of the best parts of what we do,” says Noble.

“That’s why we’ve designed such a simple list.”

(Lead image: Old Mate’s Place / Dre Walters / supplied)

Published 08 April, 2019