Back in the 2010s, The Abercrombie was the run-down, dimly lit, beer-soaked centre of Sydney’s underground party scene. A 24-hour licence meant the music never stopped – from Purple Sneakers’ indie all-nighters to Sunday house sessions by SASH. All that came to end in 2014 when the pub closed.
But The Abercrombie is back, opening just before Christmas. The corner Chippendale pub was snapped up in 2016 by mega Sydney hospo group Solotel (which is also behind The Golden Sheaf, Aria, The Clock, Bank Hotel, Opera Bar, Courthouse and many more), and soon after it began renovating the pub in collaboration with H&E Architects (which also worked on Solotel’s Barangaroo House) and designer Michael Delany (Piccolo Bar).
Solotel’s CEO, Elliot Solomon, was a regular of The Abercrombie as a student, dropping by for “after-class and between-class beers.” “[It was] very run-down and very charming, and a stalwart of indie sleaze late-night partying,” he tells Broadsheet.
Solomon has said he felt a strong sense of responsibility reopening the pub given its place in Sydney’s nightlife scene, and he was adamant the new Abercrombie would maintained that energy. “We’re hoping to make [it] the place it was – a leader of nightlife and emerging party crews – but bigger and better than before.” And while you would never mistake the new Abercrombie as divey like it used to be down, it does feel like some of that underground spirit remains.
The dance floor is still in the ground-floor public bar, but the sticky carpet has been stripped to reveal original tiling. Plus, there are golden velvet curtains, they’ve splashed some cash on speakers and there’s some mesmerising LED lighting, programmed by Sydney design studio Babekhul, that pulses with the music. This joins the outdoor beer garden, which has retained its raw feel, with tangled pipes and exposed surfaces surrounding 20-metre-high concrete pylons and a beautiful industrial staircase that leads to other adventures. Importantly, The Abercrombie’s ground floor is still a place you can get loud and sweaty in. It’s also now a place to dine, and three new spaces makes it feel very 2023 .
A decade ago, upstairs at The Abercrombie wasn’t a thing, but now it is. On the top level is Casa Rosa, a rooftop cocktail lounge specialising in Italo disco. Inspired by New York’s Palazzo Chupi, it’s pink, and decked out in lounges and terrazzo tiles. It flows onto an outdoor terrace that gets the brunt of the afternoon sun, but come evening, it’s a great spot for a drink – especially knowing that if you want to ramp things up, you only need to go downstairs.
Two 19th-century terraces adjoining the pub have been transformed into Lil Sis – a wine bar and bottle shop with its own entrance on Abercrombie Street. There are banquettes for sitting back and leaning into the wine-bar vibes, with a vino list by sommelier Zoe Brunton (who used to do wine for Monopole). While DJs spin French-inspired lounge disco tunes you can snack on gildas, whipped cod roe with chives and crisps, and cured meats sliced on demand. There are plenty of cheese by the slice, and a couple jaffles, including one filled with Heinz spaghetti and cheddar. Best of all, it’s open until 2am. You can get similar food in Casa Rosa, as well as things such as calamari and croquettes.
Fuelling The Abercrombie’s public bar around the clock is pizza by the slice, topped with combinations such as pork-and-fennel sausage with chilli, and pepperoni with Sicilian olives. You can also get pasta, chicken parmigiana, steak and fish.
The Abercrombie opened with a free 36-hour party on December 23, featuring Mike Who, Andy Garvey, Ayebatonye, Dameeeela and more. That enthusiasm will remain the pub’s MO as it makes the most of its 24-hour licence.
“Who are the new and emerging party crews in the city? How do we support them and provide a platform?” says Solomon. “We’re about making sure our programming is progressive, championing inclusivity, diversity, expression, and being a culture hub for Sydney’s creative community.
“We want to hark back to the nostalgia, but we’re also conscious that a lot of our audience didn’t see the old Abercrombie.”
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