Butcher turned bar: Earl's Juke Joint on King Street, Newtown. Photo: Steven Siewert
Little-known New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer may not have achieved the kudos he deserved during his lifetime, but his namesake bar on the other side of the world certainly is.
It's Saturday night on south King Street and we're lining up outside a converted butcher's shop that has everyone talking. We're not in the old Newtown any more, Toto.
I just wanted to make a good bar and not be too dictated by anything.
The 1950s-style butcher shop front has been left untouched while the interior has been gutted and replaced with a whopping 11-metre long bar and plenty of classy mahogany and dim lights.
Phife Dog cocktail: Rum, lime, sugar cane, Angostura bitters, $12. Photo: Steven Siewert
Former Shady Pines Saloon manager Pasan Wijesena said he just wanted to make a good bar, and that's precisely what he's done.
Earl's Juke Joint was going to be a New Orleans bar inspired by Palmer's music but eventually morphed into a top-notch neighbourhood haunt with a tip of the hat to anything that takes Wijesena's fancy.
There are Wu-Tang Clan lyrics, cocktails named after A Tribe Called Quest, homages to Fats Domino and old-school jazz musicians, international flags on the walls, nods to the legendary Betta Meats butchery, and Fernet-Branca on tap. Just because they can.
''I took New Orleans as a starting point just because of the origin of a lot of the drinks and music, and the cool design concept, but it became more of a neighbourhood bar,'' Wijesena says. ''I just wanted to make a good bar and not be too dictated by anything. I wanted it to be quite approachable and not too cocktail-y or too bartender-y, even though it takes its inspiration from those things.''
The menu is short and sharp, with a focus on simple classics and easygoing cocktails that don't take themselves too seriously. The same could be said of the bar service, too - friendly, snappy and dapper.
The Pina Colada (rum, coconut cream, lime, pineapple, $17) along with the Phife Dawg (rum, lime, sugar cane, Angostura bitters, $12) seem to be the people's choice and both were easy winners.
The Hobo Julep (bourbon, sugar syrup, soda, mint bitters, $12) and Angostura Phosphate (rum, Angostura bitters, lemon, sugar, acid phosphate, $10) were a bit ho-hum but, hallelujah, at least someone's making cocktails in Sydney for less than $18.
A Vieux Carre (rye whiskey, cognac, vermouth, bitters, $17) had plenty of balls if you're after something a little darker and serious, or if you really want to blow yourself out of the park, head for the Fernet-Branca on tap - a hideously amazing Italian beer best described as liquorice-flavoured Listerine.
There are eight excellent wines by the glass and an equally stellar list of beers that travel to all corners of the globe - the US, Japan, Belgium, Britain, Austria - and back to the centre of the universe, Newtown.
Tinnies of Brooklyn Lager and long necks of Young Henry's are good options or for something more unusual, there's a smooth and creamy Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout from Britain ($15 for 550 millilitres).
The thick, opaque stout is the closest thing you'll get to a meal here. Aside from the odd bowl of spiced nuts, Earl's doesn't do food, although Wijesena is in talks with neighbouring Dean's Diner to get some delivery happening.
A decent takeaway menu would be the final piece of a puzzle that is falling neatly into place for Earl's.
Like Mary's up the road, they've just nailed the neighbourly Newtown vibe. It's true, the line out the front on Saturdays may be a little bit Surry Hills, but inside it's not taking itself too seriously.
Earl's Juke Joint
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF … you're loving the bar revival in Newtown.
YOU'LL HATE IT IF … you're not willing to line up.
GO FOR … Phife Dawg, Fernet- Branca, Pina Colada.
IT'LL COST YOU … cocktails $10-$17, bottled beer $8-$15, wine by the glass $8-$12.
- Prices - Cocktails $10-$17, bottled beer $8-$15, wine by the glass $8-$12.
- Opening Hours - Monday-Saturday, 4pm-midnight; Sunday, 4-10pm
- Author - Rachel Olding