We’ve all been there. Out in the city, vibes are high, friends in tow. But venues are shut, kitchens are closed, and the rainbow of Smith's crisps hanging behind the bar just isn’t going to cut it.

Join the club.

Swillhouse – the hospitality group that’s already won the year with the opening of its grand Mediterranean diner Le Foote back in May – feels your pain. But it’s done the hard yards to change that. Welcome to The Caterpillar Club, a late-night cocktail lounge and live-music venue beneath Pitt Street. Our money is on it becoming your next fave.

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“It’s a place for music lovers,” Swillhouse creative director Jordan McDonald tells Broadsheet. “It’s also a place where we get to do the kind of hospitality we want to dish out – no reservations required, stay for as long as you like.”

Descend the stairs past a massive lino print by artist and co-owner Allie Webb (who’s also hand-painted every panel in the expansive former strip joint), push through the door and you’ll arrive in another world. Warm lights are dressed in frilly skirts. Framed photos and old-school memorabilia plaster the walls. And a collection of 10,000 vinyl records runs the length of the gargantuan bar, where Pina Coladas are supersized and skewered with parasols, and Zombies are pouring on-tap.

“There’s no beginner-level activity occurring behind that bar – the brief doesn’t allow for it. The funnest part about this cocktail menu is its celebration of those gun, big-time, old-school Tiki numbers, over-the-top ’80s executive drinks.”

But let’s talk about Isobel Whelan-Little’s unreal food for a second.

“There’s this British, private-club style to it,” McDonald says. “Old-school, fun, decadent dining that’s not going to interfere with a night out dancing. There are no big plates, almost everything can be eaten with your fingers. And that entire menu is available from open to close – so if you want 24 oysters Kilpatrick at 3.30 in the morning, that’s all good.”

It’ll be pretty much impossible to look past the burger and chips fried in beef fat at 3.30am. But the fish fingers with zingy tartare, the stack of tuna-melt triangles or oozy spinach-and-cheese hand pies are serious competition. “This is a club, make no mistake. It’s a big old long bar where you can sit down, have drinks, have dinner – but it’s absolutely a club. There are disco balls and dance floors, and if it ain’t a DJ spinning, it’ll be a band on the stage. Dancing’s very much a part of the DNA.”

The live music program is yet to be announced, but it’ll bring in jazz, new-wave, soul and funk acts. DJs will be turning up crate-free and spin from the formidable house collection.

“We’re deep in the processing phase of that collection, making sure everything is hip to play live. That’s the magic: there’s nowhere else where you can show up as a DJ and just be inspired by the collection.”

If you’re here to boogie, the old tenant’s private dance room at the back of the venue (now “the Den”) is, ironically, where you’d want to do it. Otherwise slink into one of many red leather booths, or nab a golden seat in the Bamboo Room, a secret bar at the back of the venue, à la Frankie’s (RIP). This tiki bunker has a completely different vibe to the rest of the venue – snug, thatched and the only place you can try the Caterpillar Downfall (designed, like the whole drinks menu, by the group’s beverage director Lello Arzedi).

While we’ve done our best to take you inside the hottest bar opening of the year, The Caterpillar Club is one of those places you have to experience to truly understand. “I would prefer people come down and feel the magic,” says McDonald. “Make up their own mind about it.”

The Caterpillar Club
92 Pitt Street, Sydney

Hours
Daily 5pm–late

swillhouse.com/venues/the-caterpillar-club
@thecaterpillarclubsydney