South King Street has always had its own vibe. It’s resisted some of the trendiness that’s crept into the rest of Newtown and retained much of its original charm. The opening of South King Recreation Club a couple of weeks ago seeks to preserve this with a laid-back, old-school atmosphere.

“It’s a riff on old recreation clubs and RSL clubs, but with a really premium drinks and music program,” owner Paddy Coughlan (who jazzed up, then sold, Chippendale’s Lord Gladstone and Enmore’s Vic on the Park hotels, among others) tells Broadsheet.

The drinks at South King Rec are a cut above those at your local RSL. It has a changing cocktail list, and $10 cocktails from 5pm to 7pm on weekdays, including bourbon peanut butter-and-jelly milkshakes and mezcal grapefruit Palomas. Young Henrys and Hawke’s Brewing Co are on tap, and in place of Jacob’s Creek sauvignon blanc and too-sweet rosé, the wine list has local and international minimal-intervention wines from small producers such as Ochota Barrels. Despite being on the first floor above the Botany View Hotel, there’s a small beer garden with plenty of natural light. The music is eclectic: ’60s and ’70s vinyl will be in the mix, and Sydney DJs such as Sullen Kink will grace the turntables. Live performances are also on the cards.

Despite being a new venue, the SKRC feels as though it’s been quenching thirsts for decades. Old photos of sporting legends such as cricketer Dennis Lillee and tennis players John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg adorn the walls. A 1980s merit board has been pinched from the now-closed Prospect Bowling Club, as has an awards board from the former Panorama Community College. Pokies – the controversial cash cows of RSL clubs nationwide – have been refitted to instead play Pac-Man and other arcade games.

The menu features typical pub grub, including $12 schnitties on Wednesdays and $12 burgers on Thursdays, but there are also twists on classics, such as beer-flavoured lamingtons. Keeping with the theme are meat-tray raffles and badge draws on Wednesdays, and a wheel of fortune on Thursdays.

The SKRC’s biggest point of pride is its “board of directors”. Kitsch portraits of club president “Reg Wilcox”, secretary treasurer “Stanley Wong” and canteen manager “Dierdre Saunders” greet guests when they enter. Though they might not be those employees’ real names or job titles, they do serve as an ode to the men and women who run these institutions around Australia.

There’s definitely a longing for the “good old days” here – not just decades gone, but more recent times, before the lockout laws were introduced in 2014. But South King Recreation Club goes beyond a time warp and instead leans into the atmosphere of the area.

“The south end of King Street is what Newtown used to be like, now that the main part of King Street has really gentrified,” Coughlan says. “I feel like south King Street’s its own precinct.”

South King Recreation Club
Level 1, 597 King Street, Newtown

Mon to Fri 5pm–late
Sat & Sun 12pm–late

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on September 19, 2019. Some menu items and prices may have changed since publication.