On the north side of Barangaroo’s waterfront near Cirrus, there’s a back alley with a lift. Take it to P1 and you’ll find Nola. It has 270 seats, water views, more than 450 whiskies, a 2.5-metre-long open-grill fire pit and a hickory-packed smoker filling the restaurant with that American barbeque smell. The only people who know the details are Sydney’s most dedicated whiskey drinkers.
It’s likely much of the early crowd has come from The Swinging Cat, the other venue by co-owners Pete Fischer and Richard Duff (who’s also the chef). It was the first place Fischer started pouring New Orleans cocktails and serving the boutique, high-end American whiskey he imports.
The aim for Nola is to take that inspiration from the American South and grow it. “We wanted to encompass the New Orleans culture a whole lot more, and we really wanted to bring in food,” says Fischer.
The kitchen’s massive fire pit and smoker punches out dry-aged beef brisket; pulled pork shoulder; and tea-brined, blackened chicken. There are also New Orleans classics such as oysters Rockefeller-style with watercress, garlic and brioche crumbs, and grilled, buttery, red-claw yabbies (they’d call them crayfish in the US). “We did change them a bit in Sydney because it's so heavy and that won't cut it here. We've lightened it up a bit,” says Fischer.
The bar mixes New Orleans classics such as a Sazerac; a rum-and-passionfruit Hurricane; and a Ramos Gin Fizz that uses cream, lemon and egg. Nola also does a few small bites, such as Cajun fried calamari, po’ boys and Maryland-style crab cakes.
Right now the list of American whiskies is pushing 450, but in a week it’ll be 500 and growing. “I'd liken it to The Baxter Inn of American whiskey,” says Fischer. Nola can even bring in particularly rare bottles if customers request them (they have to sign a contract promising they will follow through with payment).
There are four areas in the venue; a plush French Colonial VIP lounge; a copper bar with dark carpets and room for a jazz band; a wooden, brightly coloured private room; and a dining area painted with pastels, timber and greenery. The decor is inspired by New Orleans's colourful architecture.
Nola Smokehouse & Bar
1/200 Barangaroo Avenue, Sydney
(02) 9188 3039
Mon to Wed Sat 4pm–1am
Thu & Fri 11.45pm–1am