Fancy Free is the creation of Ryan Noreiks, Rob Libecans and Matt Stirling (Chris Hysted-Adams was also part of the project but has since left), who met while working at Brunswick bar Black Pearl.
Since May 2018, Fancy Free has operated as a series of takeovers and pop-ups at cocktail bars in Australia and overseas, including Sydney’s Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern, Brisbane’s Saville Row, Fitzroy’s Drinkwell, and Dandelyan in the UK. This new Collins Street bar is the longest pop-up so far (the team has secured the site for six months), but ideally, Noreiks says they’ll find a permanent home.
Sydney burger joint Mary's ran the kitchen for the first two months. Now, former Embla chef Mathew Reade has taken over for the remaining four months of the pop-up. He's serving up handmade pasta, anchovies on toast, an $8 daily salad, and pork and sauerkraut wontons. There's also a killer ice-cream sandwich.
The cocktail list is broken up into three categories: No (alcohol free), Low (slightly boozier) and Full (you get the gist), with a lot of the crafting happening behind the scenes. The bar team runs a one-day prep session each week, using a range of clarification and fermentation techniques and pre-batching many of the drinks. The menu descriptions are deceptively simple by design – the team doesn’t want to intimidate people with unusual terms – but get chatting with them about the process and you’ll hear all about the care and technique that goes into each creation.
One example is the R&C, a delicate balance of whisky and pineapple-clarified milk punch. Presentation is elegant and restrained. The drink is mostly clear with a slight gold tinge (a bit like a pinot gris) and poured over a single ice cube with a Japanese maple leaf frozen inside. The ice is from Everleigh co-founder Michael Madrusan’s company Navy Strength Ice Co, and the leaves come from Lebicans’s garden. One side of the plain rocks glass is painted with a red swipe of raspberry shrub mixed with Never Never Triple Juniper Gin. It’s a cocktail that takes days to make and seconds to assemble. And it’s almost as quick to drink.
The Not section is just as interesting as the rest of the list. The Fancy Float is an iced coffee made with coconut-infused coffee, a scoop of seasonal ice-cream (for now, Messina’s pandan gelato) and tonic; the Arnold Palmie riffs on the classic cocktail, blending mango and peach tea with sherbet lemonade.
Fancy Free is refreshing in a world of speakeasy-style cocktail bars. There’s a lack of inhibition and the promise of good times here (and not a waistcoat or tweezer in sight). Despite the bespoke ice, clarified milk and city location, Noreiks says the three owners want this spot to feel like a neighbourhood bar. And while the space isn’t the cosiest – huge curved perspex windows overlook an outdoor food court, and there are plastic chairs and tables in the back dining area – the bar up front is immediately welcoming.