By 1897 the Orient Hotel was already renowned across Sydney as a watering hole for all – a social melting pot where dock workers bent elbows with sailors, recent expats and those looking for a crazy night.
Equally renowned was the licensee of the hotel, Jane Jones, a woman known throughout The Rocks as a no-nonsense matriarch at a time when the area was still an untamed dockside hub.
This week the Orient Hotel opened the doors to Mrs Jones, its upstairs cocktail-and-dining bar that pays tribute to the infamous publican. With the bar’s open-air terrace sitting where Jones’s living quarters once were – overlooking the cobblestones of Kendall Lane – the bar’s fit-out and cocktail list offer evocative homages to the venue’s history.
“Mrs Jones is a tribute to over a century of the fascinating and sometimes scurrilous history of the building,” says founder of Ryans Hotels group Peter Ryan (which owns the pub), “and to the colourful characters who frequented the Orient to swap tall tales, live large and soak up the atmosphere of the liveliest pub in The Rocks.”
The new bar’s design by Kate Formosa interprets the venue’s history with a contemporary eye, evoking a domestic space through featured pieces of vintage furniture. Gold fixtures frame the interior, while a long copper planter filled with native plants catches the eye in the outdoor terrace, along with wicker chairs and Edison bulbs.
“Weathered” murals of native plants cover feature walls and, together with era-appropriate native fauna-inspired prints, evoke a sunny conservatory inside and out.
Tommy Donnison’s cocktail list is full of playful creations, some paying tribute to the venue’s past (the Fizzy Jones is a highlight), while others speak to the multicultural appeal of The Rocks (a Negroni, Caipiroska and Margarita walk into a bar … ).
Of particular note is the Native Espresso Martini.
“We use Archie Rose vodka from Rosebery and Mr Black cold-pressed coffee liqueur from the Blue Mountains,” mixologist Donnison explains of his interpretation of this wildly popular cocktail. “It goes particularly well with the kangaroo.”
The food menu is shared with the pub downstairs – which in the past couple weeks also underwent a renovation to more reflect what it looked like when it opened in 1844. Chef Brad Copeland (Est and the now-closed Bistrode) is working the pans, serving shared plates (slow-cooked lamb croquettes, duck spring rolls, bruschetta), pub classics and the aforementioned kangaroo, coated in native spices and served with roast vegetables.
The venue’s opening this week coincides with the installation of a major Vivid festival installation in adjacent Kendall Lane, which opens on May 25. “You’ll be able to sit up in the terrace and watch people flocking,” says marketing manager Sarah Carter-Jenkins.
(Guests visiting the bar throughout Vivid will also have the opportunity to win a weekly “Moet Chandelier”, a centrepiece holding enough glasses of champagne to ensure a memorable night. To enter the draw, Carter-Jenkins says, you simply need to make Donnison laugh. “He’s the 6’4” handsome man behind the bar.”)
Mrs Jones provides a compelling argument for locals to visit The Rocks, long considered a destination for tourists.
“Mrs Jones was known as a really strong character in The Rocks,” says Carter-Jenkins, “as you’d have to be to run a hotel in such a lively area of the docks at the time. That she presided over such a hospitable, active and, let’s be honest, naughty space, was what we wanted to bring to life here … It was a wild time, and we want to bring those wild times back.”
Upstairs The Orient Hotel, 87–89 George Street, The Rocks
(02) 9251 1255
Mon to Thu 11.30am–11pm
Fri to Sat 11.30am–2.30am