Inside cocktail and live music bar Leadbelly.
Inside cocktail and live music bar Leadbelly. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

42 King St Newtown, NSW 2042

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Opening hours Sun, Tue & Wed 4pm-midnight; Thu-Sat 4pm-1am
Features Licensed, Bar
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9557 9409

Trend alert: Sydney venues named for dead guys with rapsheets. First there was Big Poppa's – a cheese-and-beats ode to Biggie Smalls and now here's Leadbelly – a cocktail bar and gig retreat named for the 12-string guitar legend who spent as much time behind bars as at them.

Find Leadbelly on the old Vanguard site, which has been transformed from a hotbed of Star Wars and Game of Thrones burlesque (so many after-hours jokes, so little time) into a cocktail and snack bar with a live music line-up come the pointy end of the week.  

In truth, the drinks here are a damn sight better than they need to be. McFarlane, co-owner and man behind the Boston glass, has worked in some of the city's best bars, most recently with the Merivale family. Before that, you might have seen him getting fancy at Eau de Vie.

Shrimp po' boy and fries.
Shrimp po' boy and fries. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Not content with slinging Jack and Coke and pouring beers, he's put together a menu of altered classics, including what he's billed as the "great idea". That translates as a modified Tommy's Margarita where the usual lime juice is replaced with yuzu sake, packing a huge, dry citrus punch.

But here's how to get his attention for real: order the TC Nacional. A riff on the original old Havana cocktail of rum, apricot liqueur, pineapple and lime juices, here it's given several twists including the name (the "TC" is named for Roger E. Mosley's character in Magnum PI, who once played Leadbelly in a film.

It's a long bow, but if you're prepared to recite that back to him when you visit the bar, he may just marry you on the spot. The other twist is a fair whack of banana on top of the regular crash boom bang of pine lime and rum.

'In the Pines' cocktail served at Leadbelly.
'In the Pines' cocktail served at Leadbelly. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

While you could make some semblance of a dinner here, food isn't really the focus. There are a couple of soft sandwiches (the brisket po'boy with chimichurri and bacon jam's the pick, and they also do a pretty decent burger) which act as pretty effective sponges after a fistful of tinnies and a night listening to Pat Capocci. And you know what? I'm alright with that.

Pro Tip: Visit during the pointy end of the week for free live music with your margarita.