Here’s what’s odd: chasing a freshly shucked oyster with a wild Belgian ale or skins-y vino at midnight – in a bar that’ll be humming again in a few hours for breakfast. On King Street in Newtown.

After the year we’ve just had, a place like Odd Culture is bound to feel strange at first. A little European, even. And that’s precisely the point.

“In Europe you’ve got a lot of these all-day-and-night situations, where it’s like a cafe in the morning and it turns into a bar in the afternoon. And it stays open super late. There’s not really anything like that in Sydney,” Odd Culture group general manager James Thorpe tells Broadsheet.

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Occupying the former Happy Chef space halfway up the strip, Odd Culture is a handsome two-storey beast comprising a cavernous ground-floor bar and an open kitchen that will soon be pumping from 7am until late (with two ex-Continental Deli chefs on the pans). In the mezzanine upstairs is a full-service restaurant. And down the road, a new bottle shop (opening later this week) is dedicated to lo-fi booze and ferment-focused pantry items such as pickles, hot sauce and kimchi.

The project – which took six months and an eye-watering $2 million dollars to bring to life – is Odd Culture Group’s most ambitious opening to date (it also operates the Oxford Tavern, Old Fitzroy and Duke of Enmore). It was inspired by a company jaunt to Europe in 2019, scouting the continent’s late-trading cafes and old-world breweries. And it looks the part: super-high vaulted ceilings, distressed walls, brass features and enormous French windows looking out onto King Street. Timber is everywhere: a bartop milled together from old railway sleepers, tabletops hewn from recycled French-oak barrels, and timber floors from an old French barn. Its past life as beloved Chinese eatery Happy Chef – which was destroyed by a fire in 2018 – is acknowledged, with the remains of the old logo still painted on one of the walls.

While it’s set up to be many things at once, Thorpe says Odd Culture is above all an “all killer, no filler” bar with an overarching theme of fermentation tying the formidable drinks list, food menu and adjoining bottle-o together.

When Broadsheet calls, Thorpe is taking stock of the rare and unusual selection he’s amassed for the bar’s 12 beer taps: back-catalogue blends by Wildflower in Marrickville, farmhouse ales by Two Metre Tall in Tasmania, and imported lambic styles from Rodenbach and Boon Brewery in Belgium. All of them are wild-fermented brews uncommon to the strip’s hop-centric pub tap lists and steeped in European beer-making traditions.

“Over there it’s all about the yeast and the concept of ‘terroir’. Something tasting like the place it was made. It’s a theme in wine more than it is in beer,” Thorpe explains.

“Our trip in 2019 centred around Belgium, and we went to the [Weekend] of Spontaneous Fermentation in a town outside Brussels and got to meet all these epic beermakers from Cantillon and Boon [breweries]. We got to see how these beers are made, where they’ll literally throw open the windows and let the wild yeast blow in and inoculate the beer. Cantillon is in this run-down, dirty part of Brussels, and it’s like, ‘Really – this is what Cantillon beers taste like?’ But it works.”

If the six-metre-high Reschs mural up on the mezzanine dining space is anything to go by, Odd Culture is not all about catering to acquired beer tastes. Reschs is the house lager, joining an approachable house pale ale brewed in collaboration with 4 Pines. There are also taps dedicated to cider and seltzer.

“We’ll always have good curation of hoppy, sour and dark beers. We’re trying to hit on all fronts at all times, so there’s something for everyone to feel comfortable with starting out on.”

A cocktail list spearheaded by bar manager Sam Paech (ex-Baxter Inn) bubbles with the fermented theme: a sour Negroni stirred with oude kriek (a sour-cherry lambic), a lacto-fermented Strawberry Daiquiri, and house-made tepache sodas (a Mexican libation made with fermented pineapple rind). Group beverage director Jordan Blackman (ex-Chin Chin) has curated a world-beating array of spirits and sakes, and a preposterously long list of global wines, farmhouse ciders and lambic ales.

The kitchen, helmed by head chef Jesse Warkentin and sous-chef Caleb Venner (both ex-Continental Deli) is overseen by group executive chef James MacDonald (Restaurant Hubert’s ex-head chef), with Katharine Crowe-Mai (ex-Rockpool) running the restaurant service. The menu is primed for either lunch or dinner (a breakfast offering is on the way) and sees the odd fermented ingredient star in approachable snacks, small plates and large dishes: pickled carrot paired with thin-sliced LP’s saucisson; salted chilli-flecked cucumber with preserved tofu; or a perfectly rare hanger steak with burnt garlic and egg-yolk sauce. For dessert, it might be a peanut-butter and jersey milk ice-cream sando.

Odd Culture bar is now open for lunch and dinner, with breakfast service beginning November 5. The bottle shop opens later this week.

Odd Culture
266 King Street, Newtown

Hours:
Bar
Mon to Wed 12pm–12am
Thu to Sat 12pm–2am
Sun 12pm–10pm

Restaurant
Mon to Thu 5pm–late
Fri to Sun 12–late

Odd Culture Bottleshop
256 King Street, Newtown

Hours:
Mon to Sun 10am–10pm

oddculture.group
@oddculturenewtown