Swillhouse, the group behind Restaurant Hubert, Frankie’s Pizza, The Baxter Inn and Shady Pines, has opened 101 George, a pop-up bar in a heritage-listed space in The Rocks.

All summer, the bar will serve simple charcuterie alongside the sort of extensive wine list we’ve come to expect from the group, plus a range of beers on tap, including a collaboration with cult California brewer Stone Brewing.

Considering Swillhouse’s portfolio consists mainly of venues in the CBD, the group weathered lockdown well. CEO Anton Forte has a unique point of view about the time. “Our philosophy has always been to keep operating as if nothing is going on,” he tells Broadsheet. “It wasn’t always successful, but we didn’t want to be stagnant and seize up in lockdown.”

Like many venues, Swillhouse turned to takeaway – although at first Forte didn’t like the idea. “I thought it would be lame at the start – takeaway cocktails didn’t inspire me – but once we started tasting the product, it was really good. We partnered with Providoor, and all in all it was a successful pivot that it got us out of a lot of trouble.”

It also put the group in in a solid position to open 101 George St in a space occupied by bar and restaurant Phillip’s Foote since the 1970s.

“It’s one of the oldest buildings in Australia,” Forte says. “We love taking over old venues. The bar has got beautiful bones. We want to keep all the old doors and windows, the obscure nooks and crannies and seating areas. That stuff is magical. It’s awkward, a little bit weird – cobblestone floors, wonky walls. It has this wabi-sabi beauty.”

The pop-up will run from November until February, then 101 George St will close and construction on Le Foote, a European wine bar, will begin. Plans are still underway, but Forte has lots of big ideas.

“We’ll turn the cookhouse out back into our main kitchen, and where the dining area is, we’ll install an outdoor woodfire barbeque where we’ll do beautiful vegetables like chargrilled eggplants, cauliflowers and beautiful cuts of dry-aged beef or porchetta. It’s about simple cooked produce over a charcoal grill.

“The front bar we want to keep as a rambly, pub-wine bar place where you order at the bar. We want to do house-baked bread, beautiful sandwiches and charcuterie, like a European wine bar.”

The Rocks might not be the first place you think of for a Swillhouse venue, but Forte says he’s always loved the area. It’s also slowly undergoing a reputational overhaul, with a wave of new venues – including gin bar Frank Mac’s, soon-to-open distillery Hickson House, and upcoming omakase diner Bay Nine – drawing locals to the suburb. And as a Melbourne native, Forte still appreciates the novelty of seeing Sydney’s iconic landmarks.

“I’m stoked to be in The Rocks. I’m going to be really proud when my parents come check it out. I’m excited to put together something with a beautiful hospitality heart. It’s a place to have a shitload of fun hanging out in.”

101 George St
101 George Street, The Rocks

Hours:
Mon to Thu 4pm–midnight
Fri to Sun 12pm–12am

swillhouse.com
@101georgestreet