When Chippendale bar and live-music venue Freda’s announced its closure back in November, it felt to many like years of restrictive policies and lockout laws had conspired with Covid-19 to knock out one of the last greats of Sydney’s nightlife scene. Over almost a decade, the vibrant late-night venue had offered an inclusive, diverse space to party, as well as plentiful opportunities for musicians, DJs and artists to come together and share their work.
But now, Freda’s is back (kind of). Owner David Abram has opened a new eatery and wine bar on the iconic Taylor Square corner of Oxford Street – and he’s calling it Cafe Freda’s.
Cafe Freda’s is a more adult iteration of the OG Freda’s concept: it’s a sit-down venue where food and drinks are the focus.
“We wanted to do something less late night and a bit more attuned to our ages,” Abram tells Broadsheet. “Operating a late-night venue for 10 years is quite gruelling, particularly in Sydney when there’s not a lot of support for what you do.”
Abram and his partner, Carla Uriarte, first toyed with the idea of opening Cafe Freda’s when the original was still open. “There was talk of maybe trying to increase the capacity [at Freda’s] and operating two spaces … but it was quite a big job to make it work. Plus, being down the back alley of Chippendale doesn’t have the same street presence as where we are now.”
Abram likens the new light-filled venue, which offers plenty of open-air seating out front, to the eateries and bars found in such cities as Paris, Berlin or Amsterdam. Its sunflower-yellow exterior rounds off the interior’s playful peachy, green and blue colour palette. Elements of its predecessor remain, with the bar top, shelving and lighting all taken from the original Freda’s.
Running the kitchen is chef Xinyi Lim, who was born in Sydney but based in New York until Covid-19 hit. She’s created a small but dynamic menu based on locally sourced, seasonal produce. The menu changes frequently, but you might come across a pickle plate of green plums and green tomatoes; eggplant toast; grilled onigiri with shellfish butter; or tamarind pork shoulder. At some point, Lim says she plans to add a rendang to the menu.
Taking care of the wine selection is sommelier Darcy Creenaune Ellis (ex-Restaurant Leo, Berowra Waters Inn), who has created a diverse and fun list. It brings together classic varietals from Italy and France with natural wines by producers such as Bowral-based Ari’s Natural Wine. Like the food, the drops will change regularly. Beyond vino, there’s local beers and a range of cocktails.
While Cafe Freda’s may not be a late-night venue, the Freda’s essence – which was all about music, culture and art – is still “central to our purpose”, Abram says. Small exhibitions, live performances and popular reading night Cafe del Mwah are expected to make a comeback. “We also plan to work closely with the City of Sydney to see how we can activate Taylor Square and the surrounding area with some larger-scale events.”
Abram and Uriarte, an artist, are also working on a gallery and events space nearby, which is slated to open in early March. Here they aim to continue the cultural programming that was core to Down Under, the gallery that operated out of Freda’s basement.
Abram reckons these programs could help bring some much-needed life back to the “maligned strip” of Oxford Street, and specifically Taylor Square, which will soon also be home to a new mega-venue when classic drinking dens Kinselas and the Courthouse Hotel merge into one.
“Oxford Street was and is the heartbeat of nightlife in this city. It is of critical significance that it thrives as a night-time destination again,” says Abram.
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191–195 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
Wed & Thu 4pm–12am
Fri to Sun 12pm–12am