There's a cheerful vibe at Black Penny. Photo: Edwina Pickles
It started with three mates, plenty of nights out at bars, the odd whinge about their office jobs and a lingering desire to one day open a place of their own.
Years later, the penny dropped for Damien Dlugolecki, Mike McGrath and Phil Beck, and the trio finally took the plunge to open a little neighbourhood bar in Surry Hills.
The story of Black Penny is a nice one - and so is the bar, a friendly looking place perched on prime real estate on the corner of Bourke and Cleveland streets.
It's a very casual kind of bar. Come in, throw back a beer, have something to eat and dance on the table if the mood so takes you.
There's no shortage of people cutting shapes to a DJ up the back on the Sunday Barhop visits.
Down the back, hidden in a rather lifeless room, is a gallery that hosts rotating exhibitions from the likes of respected local artists Numskull, Charlie Nivison and friends.
''We're not a concept bar, we're not a pirate bar, we're not a speakeasy bar, we just want to be the local corner bar,'' Dlugolecki says. ''A place that's almost as comfortable as your friend's place, where everyone knows your name - as cheesy as that sounds.''
It's nailed that neighbourhood-bar vibe, but the penny on the eating and drinking front still has a way to drop yet.
Food and drink is a competitive game in Surry Hills, and it was hit-and-miss here.
On one evening, the Wrath (tequila, Cointreau, lemongrass, ginger, chilli, $14 - there is a Seven Deadly Sins theme to the cocktail list) was a watery-weak concoction with little flavour but on another, it was a much more interesting balance of citrus and spice.
The Envy (muddled pear, lime, green tea, absinthe, $16) and the High Roller (muddled cucumber, Hendrick's gin, St Germain, elderflower liqueur, lime, $18) were generously served, but overly diluted.
The night we were there, half the menu of pub-style tapas was sold out (it was a busy lunch, we were told) and the barman found it easier to list the few dishes they did have rather than the long list they didn't.
From the leftovers, we tried crumbed portobello mushrooms stuffed with shiitake, swiss brown, woodier and porcine mushrooms and blue gorgonzola ($14) and Surry fried chicken with smoked paprika dipping sauce ($12). The chicken passed the scoff-with-a-beer test, but the mushrooms were crumbed to ruination.
The potato skins (with onion, bacon, cheese and sour cream, $7.50), the slow-braised lamb and feta ravioli and the grass-fed beef carpaccio roll-ups must have been much better because they were sold out.
Things were looking up on the beer menu. It's happy hour from 5-7pm on weekdays and there's a solid cast of local favourites: Young Henry's natural lager; Balmain pale ale and pilsner; and the ever-popular Murray's Punch & Judy ($8), a big-flavoured, dark bitter-style beer with a surprisingly low alcohol content of 3.9 per cent.
Hills cider from the Adelaide Hills also goes down a treat with a great apple and ginger offering ($14).
A small wine list has five reds and five whites by the glass covering the usual selection of Australian drops, including a decent Red Hill estate pinot noir.
Nailing the vibe of a Surry Hills neighbourhood bar is one part but bringing home the goods is another thing all together.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF … you want a new Surry Hills local.
YOU'LL HATE IT IF … high-class cocktails and food are a must.
GO FOR … Young Henry's lager; Surry fried chicken; art gallery.
- 02 9319 5061
- Cuisine - Tapas
- Prices - Cocktails $14-$18; bottled beer $6.50-$14; wine by the glass $7-$12; share plates $12-$14.
- Features - Licensed
- Owners - Damien Dlugolecki, Phil Beck, Mike McGrath
- Opening Hours - Tuesday-Saturday, noon-midnight; Sunday, noon-10pm
- Author - Rachel Olding