New South Wales going into lockdown the day Kieran Fitsall and his husband Rob Stevens got the keys to their new bar certainly wasn’t part of the plan. Despite this Covid-19 spanner in the works, a few months on business is booming. Their Sydney Beer Co-battered takeaway fish’n’chips have a devout local following, there’s a four-month waitlist for their once-a-month Gender Bender Bingo with Verushka Darling, the gin list is growing longer, and the bar’s wall of naval photos gifted from the Northbridge community is getting crowded. Surprisingly, Fitsall and Stevens say they’ve partly got lockdown to thank for it all.
“Going straight to takeaway gave us a good chance to know people and to have a chat with them. We met a lot of people that might not have come into the bar ordinarily, and they’ve all stayed with us,” Fitsall tells Broadsheet. “But it was a great day when we were finally able to open those doors.”
The Sailor Bar & Kitchen is a nautical-themed spot where gin and cocktails come first and food comes second. It’s a cosy neighbourhood haunt filled with maritime memorabilia “that might otherwise be sitting gathering dust in someone’s garage”. There’s a ship wheel donated by a friend whose father was an engineer in the navy, a donated sailor’s uniform the owners had framed, and a feature wall of black-and-white photos gifted by locals – a collection of local navy history and memories.
Previously called Hello Sailor, the venue was already an established cafe, restaurant and bar in one. When Fitsall and Stevens (who are both British) took over, they set out to give it a clear identity. The first step was changing its name. “As two gay guys running a bar, we thought ‘Hello Sailor’ was a little too camp,” Fitsall says.
They turned it into a night-time destination by installing mood lighting, building wooden shelves to display their impressive selection of gin, and changing the menu to highlight food designed for sharing (and suited to drinking). There’s an outdoor area with high and low tables, a comfy couch and heaters, and the bar’s front windows open all the way, making the inside feel outside on warm evenings.
Given the owners’ English background, introducing a Sunday roast was never even a question. And theirs has all the trimmings, Yorkshire pudding included. Traditional scotch-fillet beef is always on offer, but you can also choose from chicken, pork and lamb roasts on alternate Sundays (there’s a vegetarian option too).
“Our chef, Kiran, who’s Nepalese, had never heard of a Yorkshire pudding when we came along. But he’s absolutely amazing and now perfects it every single time,” Fitsall says.
Outside of Sunday lunches, the sharing menu features pork, beef and haloumi sliders; barramundi bites served with tomato and avocado salsa; soft-shell tacos; and smoked chicken wings with a Sriracha and yoghurt dip. There are weekly Nepalese and Indian curry specials and sharing bowls, too.
The food might be worth a visit, but the drinks menu does most of the talking at the Sailor. Those overwhelmed by the nine-page gin list (featuring gins from 40 small-batch Aussie distilleries, plus some international varieties) can opt for a gin flight, which gives you a small taste of three different types – served with all the garnishes. On the cocktail front there are Gold Star Quarantinis made with honey and lemon gin; Drunken Sailors featuring two types of gin; and the rose petal-adorned Pink Suburbia – the bar’s top-selling cocktail.
“A lot of our clientele is the Northbridge mums and they love a Pink Suburbia,” Fitsall says. “Not a night goes by these days we don’t make one.”
On Friday evenings there’s live music, and on the first Wednesday of every month Verushka Darling enters the building to host Gender Bender Bingo (heads up: it’s become so popular there’s no space available till 2021). There’s also a stack of board games to keep kids entertained while mum and dad enjoy a tipple.
“It could have gone one of two ways, taking over when we did,” Fitsall explains. “It’s more than we could have hoped for. We’ve been really fortunate that the locals have supported us.”
Good one, buoys.
The Sailor Bar & Kitchen
128 Sailors Bay Road, Northbridge
Tue & Wed, 5pm–10pm
Thu, 5pm–late Fri & Sat 4pm–late Sun 12pm–4pm