Hidden bars. They’re all the rage right now. On Brunswick Street, Greaser Bar slipped in underneath the Elephant and Wheelbarrow in 2014. In the city, between Elizabeth and Charlotte streets, John Mills Himself flips its daily script from morning espresso to evening pints. And behind an innocuous-looking door over on Eagle Lane hides Brooklyn Standard — one of the city’s best freewheeling live-music venues.
But then Tomcat, with its neon signage — and despite the initial secrecy surrounding its location — isn’t exactly hidden. At least, not at first. Up an interminable flight of stairs at 210 Wickham Street, it’s more just an effort to get to.
At the top of the staircase, to your right, you find the main drinking den: a grungy, rambunctious space dotted with dry bars and lined by private seating areas. Covered in graffiti, it’s half dive bar, half warehouse party. In that sense, the bar staff keeps things speedy with a straightforward, rotating selection of beer, cider and wine. There are just two tapped cocktails on offer; one night it might be a Mount Gay rum and peach punch, the next, Aperol ginger spritz. The drinks are backed by a short menu of pizza, available by the pan or slice.
It’s on the opposite side of the venue that you realise Tomcat is hiding something after all. The Boiler Room is the Jekyll to the main bar’s rough-hewn Hyde. It’s a slinky cocktail space with a never-ending hardwood bar, which achieves that elusive trick of seeming spacious even when packed with a crowd. The quieter atmosphere encourages long sessions over a menu based on the Boiler Room’s specialty: Rémy Martin cognac. If you’re into it, you can even buy a bottle and keep it in residence behind the bar.
To that end, a spacious anteroom at the far end is perfect for bottle service — an experience owners Chris Denman and Stevie Waites are determined to switch up for local drinkers. “Bottle service in Australia is typically just vodka and a pretty wanky affair,” Waites says. “We’re really trying to make it more European. It’s not special there; it’s relaxed. It’s just what you do.”
Waites and Denman have been sitting on the concept for some time, inspired by bars such as Heartbreaker in Melbourne and Frankie’s Pizza in Sydney. “I think State of Grace and Fall From Grace would be one that really works towards that Boiler Room theory,” Denman says.
Denman and Waites between them both have plenty of pedigree, formerly operating The Manhattan Line in South Bank, and Fourth Wall and Kerbside in Fortitude Valley. But they’ve also collected an enviable crew of barkeeps, including recent World Class winner Kal Moore (The Gresham) as venue manager, as well as Jasmine Pardo (Greaser), Caity McCawley (Sling) and Scott Griffin (Elixir, Capulet)
It marks another tentative step in the evolution of the Valley. From Barbara to Alquimia and now to Tomcat, the precinct is suddenly back to catering for those who like their drinking experience mixed a little differently.
Thu to Sun 5pm–3am