Here’s a tip for future bar owners – if Sydney’s commercial rental market is unaffordable just look to the skies. That’s what the long-time bartenders Gabrielle Walters (Black by Ezard), husband Andrew “Dre” Walters (Lobo Plantation, Kittyhawk) and Daniel Noble (Mojo Record Bar) did when they were hunting for a space to open Old Mate’s Place in.
“Every week was just inspection, inspection, inspection. We were looking at ground level, but everything was too expensive,” says Walters.
Inspired by the bar culture in Japan they started to look up. “They have these buildings where on the 14th floor there's an amazing whisky bar that fits 12 people, and you just have the best time," says Dre.
The trio found a former office space and converted it for Old Mate’s Place, a split-level venue with a covered bar down below and an upper-level rooftop area. For a city with such great weather, rooftop bars are strangely rare, especially in the CBD; it’s rarer still to find one that’s so intimate.
What you will find in this part of town are themed small bars: speakeasy whisky den Baxter Inn, record-shop-slash-drinking-hole Mojo Record Bar and the gin-slash-barber shop The Barber Shop, which are all walking distance from Old Mate’s.
But the trio wasn’t interested in competing in the themed-bar world. “We thought, ‘Let’s just open a bar’,” Dre says.
To find the bar, you’ll need to locate the discrete ground-level entrance on Clarence Street and then make your way up four levels of steep, narrow stairs (there's also a lift). Noble estimates that during the build they manually carted 12 tonnes of rubble up and down these steps. He pats his calves: “We’ve got solid legs these days.”
The 98-capacity venue is filled with brown-leather booths in front of bookcases, and foliage peeping from every nook and cranny, including from the ceiling. There’s a short and sharp cocktail list, and guests are offered a mini amuse bouche cocktail when they arrive. The team, all experienced bartenders with decades of hospitality knowledge between them, has been toying with a palate-cleansing starter of sherry, sake, yuzu and sous-vide coconut. “It’s a nice little welcome, a ‘thanks for coming’,” says Dre.
Food-wise, you’ll be able to sink your teeth into a hefty Philly cheese steak, (a vegetarian version is available). There are also plans for a rotating selection of deli meats and ploughman’s plates, as well as a “waffle croque monsieur”, made with roasted cauliflower bechamel, double-smoked ham and parmesan.
To access the drawcard rooftop bar you’ll need to climb another set of stairs (this space closes at 10pm). There’s more greenery and punters have 360-degree views of the city’s skyscrapers.
"At night when you sit here with the fairy lights, under the trees [and with] candles on the tables ... it is quite a unique space to have in Sydney,” says Dre.
Old Mate’s Place
Level 4, 199 Clarence Street, Sydney
Tue to Sat 5pm–2am
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on August 31, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.