Hello, south end of King Street, when did you become so good on a Friday night? Last time I checked, there weren't this many laid-back, cool drinking options down here but it pleases me greatly. It may mean my usual Friday night post-work booze-up in Newtown does not have to involve the seedy Town Hall Hotel (much as I love you, Townie).
BENCH WINE BAR WAS PART OF A PIZZA RESTAURANT not long ago. The owner of the next-door Pizza Picasso, Robyn Thomas, felt a slab of her dining area was being underutilised so she gutted it, stuck in a wall and created a little place all its own. Little it is, with a long, steel communal table and some skinny two-seaters neatly placed into a room no bigger than my bedroom. Stools perched at a front-window bar look on to King Street where there are a couple of charming garden benches surrounded by pot plants. Thomas fretted that the polished concrete floor, steel furniture and industrial chic feel of the place, designed by her brother David, would be too harsh for the winter weather but it's totally cosy inside. If you're brave enough to sit outside, the bar has blankets on hand which is too cute.
THERE IS A LOVELY FAMILY FEEL about the place. We're greeted at the door and, after hanging up our coats, offered a drink to get us started. The staff are attentive, genuine and just seem to enjoy working here.
It's a congenial bar - the music is at conversation level and everyone is well behaved. ''I'm noticing the age demographic is 30 to 60 which I love,'' Thomas says. ''With the older people, I can't imagine them going anywhere else on King Street so it's great.''
IT HAS A REALLY SLICK LOOK with funky elements such as exposed, low-hanging lights and a wall of hollowed-out cylinders lit up by a brilliant magenta light. There is a really nice selection of wines with not too many to get confused by. Each has a description and the menu of large tapas-sized dishes has suggested matches. Food is limited to cheese boards, olives, the Bench rump steak, Bench prawns, and Bench pizettes.
The Tar & Roses miro ($15.50) from Spain - an interesting fleshy, earthy, almost raw red wine - goes well with the succulent lamb rump pieces with lemon, mint, oregano and tzatziki ($14). Likewise, the recommended Tainui sauvignon blanc ($9) goes fairly well with the trio of home-made pizettes. There are plenty more boutique wines on the international list and I could easily settle in longer to try them all.
FOR COCKTAIL DRINKERS there's a list of classics and they are made well. A ''champagne'' cocktail (sugar cube soaked in Angostura bitters, brandy, sparkling wine, $14) is delightfully sweet. The Cosmopolitan (vodka, Cointreau, lime, cranberry juice, $14) is not too watery nor citric as is often the case and while the Mojito isn't the best I've ever had, they make a mean Vodka Martini.
Maybe I'm in the gushing honeymoon phase but I find it hard to fault this place. OK, if I had to pick something I'd question whether the super-slick, polished look will turn off the typical Newtown dweller. It's not the best choice if you want a raging night either (go to the Townie) but for a few sophisticated drinks, light food and a casual start or end to the night, it's the pick of the King Street bunch.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF you want sophisticated and modern.
YOU'LL HATE IT IF you're up for a big night.
GO FOR Tar & Roses miro, Big Men in Tights rosé, classic cocktails, lamb rump pieces.
IT'LL COST YOU wine by the glass $7-$14, cocktails $14, food $5-$15.
Bench Wine Bar
Address 511 King Street, Newtown, benchwinebar.com.au Open Wed-Fri, 5pm-midnight, Sat, 4pm-midnight; Sun, 4pm-10pm
- 0418 421 256
- Opening Hours - Wed-Fri, 5pm-midnight; Sat, 4pm-midnight; Sun, 4pm-10pm
- Author - Rachel Olding