December 19, 2013 by Dan
We ended up in Newtown by happy accident. Our little serviced apartment building (“little” in the sense of 50+ stories but not very wide) had a bunch of tourist maps in the lobby. My favorites were the Urban Walkabouts. They were small enough to fit in a pocket, and had a well-thought-out-list of stuff to do.
The map of Newtown intrigued me – it looked like it might resemble our neighborhood in San Francisco about five years ago, before everything went completely bonkers. So, on a rainy Monday night, we took the train two stops south and hopped out at Newtown Station.
Newtown is funky. The main drag is along King Street, and is full of little shops and restaurants. “This place kind of reminds me of Portland,” I said. “It’s raining and there are old buildings and it has that kind of industrial-ish feel…”
Then, affirmation. A poster store with this:
Our Urban Walkabout map listed Mary’s Pub as a decent place for dinner, and the Lonely Planet concurred. We found Mary’s after a little bit of walking around – it’s on an alleyway off the main drag, with no outside signage. I was reminded of that scene in Swingers where John Favreau tells the guy who played Peter Gibbons in Office Space that “all the cool bars in Hollywood don’t have signs.”
Inside…heaven. A big ol’ dark room filled with young people with creative facial hair, and two open seats at the bar. And, on tap?
“What’s Slayer Juice like?” I asked the bartender.
“It’s dark and hoppy and…evil,” she said.
One for me, please. Her description was apt. It was one of the best beers I had had in Sydney, but I still couldn’t tell you the style. They have two things to eat at Mary’s: burgers and fried chicken. Apparently the owners are obsessed with Whoppers and KFC, so they set out to reconstruct both dishes using high-quality stuff instead of fast food garbage. It ends up looking something like this:
There’s a burger in that wrapper, I swear. A life-changing burger. It was thin, but juicy, and the brioche bun soaked up just enough of the special sauce to impart some more flavor to the bread without soaking it up so much that it fell apart. The fried chicken was like the chicken fingers of the gods – spicy, crunchy, juicy. We raved about it to Naomi the bartender, and ended up chatting with her for quite some time.
“Oh, you’re going to Melbourne?” she said. “I used to live there. You’ve got to go to Everleigh and…well, wait. Why don’t I just make you a list?”
Naomi then grabbed one of the waiters and a long piece of register tape and spent about five minutes writing down all of the places we should go in Melbourne. We were blown away. When she finished our list, we were ready to wrap up – it was ten fifteen, and a school night.
“Guys,” she said. “Thank you so much for sitting at the bar and entertaining me.”
Thank us? Newtown was blowing us away just based on Mary’s, and we told her so.
“Oh, you’re done? That’s too bad. If you were up for one more, there is a place you should go…”
We’re suckers that way. “Where?”
“Earl’s. It’s just up King Street about five minutes, on the right side. Look for a sign that says ‘Betta Meats.’ It used to be a butcher shop.”
Of course. We went outside into the mist and fog and debated the train vs. the bar for a good ten or fifteen seconds before deciding on the bar. Earl’s was easy to find, and when we saw the rules of the house on the front door, we were sold.
Inside…a forty-foot dark bar that did not lend itself to photography. We took seats and ordered drinks and made quick friends (per the rules) with the young man next to us, who was happy to give us details of his life growing up in Western Australia, his trips to rehab, and how unfriendly people were in Sydney. We politely disagreed, noting the cheerful nature of the bar itself.
That’s OK, though; it was the kind of friendly bar argument that you get into. Earl’s slowly filled up, mostly with people we had seen at tables at Mary’s – maybe there was some kind of reciprocal agreement. We stayed until 11:30 or so, finishing with one of the bartenders’ signatures – an amazing concoction involving an entire shot of Agnostura bitters and a floating star anise.
And that, my friends, is where this entry ends. But yes – if you go to Sydney, go to Newtown. And if you go to Newtown, go to Mary’s and Earl’s; you won’t be sorry.
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