421 Bourke St Surry Hills, NSW 2010
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri 5:30pm-late; Sat-Sun noon-10pm|
|Features||Bar, Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options, Family friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9358 3560|
Ever had a bicicletta? Geez, it's a good drink. Campari and white wine (pinot grigio for the win), usually with ice, sometimes with soda. It's named after the Italian word for "bicycle" and the story goes that elderly men used to knock back a few under the Ligurian sun before pedalling home and swerving all over the strada.
I like to get in touch with my non-existent Italian heritage by drinking them under the Sydney sun every summer, usually at home because until Maybe Frank opened a month ago, I didn't see biciclettas on Australian drinks lists too often.
Surry Hills' newest margherita-twirling bar and restaurant occupies the old Pizza Mario site budding off Bourke Street. It's a smart, little joint with soft lighting, black tables, top-value Italian wine, and staff intent on you having a terrific time. The only thing not to like about the place is the hard, uncomfortable barstools, which is a shame because sitting at the bar and knocking back a Campari-based cocktail or two after work is exactly what you want to do here.
Head shaker and strainer is Andrea Gualdi, a well-coiffed champion with a penchant for bitter red liqueur. His classics list includes the Garibaldi (Campari topped with orange juice and named after the revolutionary general who helped liberate Italy), Sbagliato (Campari, vermouth and prosecco) and the Milan Torino, an equal parts mix of Campari and sweet vermouth that led to the creation of the Negroni and the Americano, both of which feature here too.
Back to the bicicletta ($10). Gualdi serves it sans soda water, which is fine because that's exactly how I drink them at home (partly because that's how they're made at St John in London, but mainly because I never have soda in the fridge). If you're planning on having dinner, it's a great way to kick the vital organs into gear.
There's more than 20 pizzas on the Maybe Frank menu, from the alla Norma ($22) with mozz, eggplant, ricotta and basil, to the Zafferano ($23) topped with saffron, zucchini and prawns. A sharp margherita is worth its $18 ticket price, heavy with fior di latte on a northern Italian-style base that's firmer than its chewy, blistered-edged cousins out of Naples.
Lasagne al pesto ($21) is the real humdinger, though, fragrant with parmesan and fresh pesto between handkerchiefs of oven-hot pasta. We order a robust and ready carafe of Umani Ronchi Montepulciano D'abruzzo 2013 ($30) to drink with it and everyone at the party gets along great guns.
There's a regulation list of dolci (tiramisu, affogato, pizza alla Nutella) but the better bet is finishing on one of Gualdi's non-Campari-based house cocktails (that recipe book from cult New York bar PDT next to the oranges is a statement, not an ornament).
A weekly special of Fernet Branca, agave syrup, lemon juice, mint and ginger ale ($17) is the kind of thick, frothy and delicious thing you could sit on for 30 seconds or three hours. It's listed on the board as the "JKFern4do 2X Libidine" and Gualdi isn't sure where the name came from either (although I suspect the bar was running low on changeable letters). Digestivo fans will enjoy the tight selection of after-dinner amaro here too, such as Montenegro, Averna and Tonico.
Maybe Frank isn't going to bump Via Napoli or Lucio from the top of the pizza box pile anytime soon and that's OK – Sydney doesn't need more marinaras. What there can never be enough of though, is little bars like this that facilitate fun, social drinking after hours. It's not always easy for venues to obtain and maintain a bar licence, which is frustrating state of affairs – particularly in Western Sydney, which is crying out for more places where you can drink a whisky, eat some cheese and nick off home before the footy starts.
Small neighbourhood bars like Maybe Frank, Dead Ringer, Titus Jones, The Different Drummer, Besser, Arcadia and The Gretz to name a few, don't encourage anti-social behaviour, they maintain healthy communities. Let's all raise a glass to that.
And if you're going to ride your bicicletta home, remember to wear a helmet.
Go for… an aperitivo.
Stay for… a digestivo.
Drink… a bicicletta.
And… Tuesday night is all-you-can eat pizza night for $20 per person. Maybe Frank, makin' it great.