After almost a year of being closed to patrons, prized Woolloomooloo pub the Old Fitz is slated to reopen on February 18. The boozer, which is more than 150 years old, was taken over by the International Worldwide group in 2019, but the venue changed hands during Covid-19. Its new operator? Odd Culture, the beer-loving group behind The Oxford Tavern, The Duke of Enmore (also a former International Worldwide pub) and Odd Culture, which is slated to open in Newtown’s former Happy Chef space early this year.
Like its previous operator, the Old Fitz’s new head honcho is dedicated to maintaining the historic features of the pub – and catering to its diverse customer base. “The demographics at the Fitz are incredibly disparate – you’ve got people from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds living locally; you’ve got the die-hard theatregoers; and the pub's turned into a bit of a hospo haunt in recent years, too,” James Thorpe, Odd Culture’s owner and group general manager, tells Broadsheet.
Thorpe says Odd Culture will do little to the space – it’ll update some of the furniture and is installing a 100-seat outdoor-dining area. The kitchen – last occupied by nose-to-tail aficionado Nicholas Hill (Milan Cricket Club) – will be reconfigured to suit the needs of its impressive incoming head chef, Anna Ugarte-Carral. Ugarte-Carral previously worked at Momofuku Seiōbo, has completed stages at Noma in Copenhagen and Lyle’s in London, and was awarded the prestigious 2020 Josephine Pignolet young chef award. Most recently she’s been a key part of Ten Hats Bistro, a series of monthly food, drink and music experiences. Ugarte-Carral says her menu will hop around the regions of France, Spain and Italy.
“I’m feeling inspired by the prospect of expanding the al fresco drinking and dining space, so I’m imagining long afternoons in the sun, with food to match – oysters, crudités and the like,” she tells Broadsheet. “Since Sunday roast at the Fitz used to be such a hit, I'll probably do something large-format on Sundays, but rotate it: whole baked fish in vine leaves one week, dry-aged rib-eyes the next.”
Odd Culture is heavy into beer – it takes its name from its former beer bar in The Taphouse in Darlinghurst (Thorpe recently sold his share of that pub to his brother Josh). To that end, expect plenty of fun, approachable beers, as well as funkier options.
“[We’re] always aiming to keep at least a handful of natural wines on the list,” the Old Fitz’s general manager Adam van den Bok – who’s worked at the pub for four years – tells Broadsheet. “We’re also going to be putting ongoing thought into stocking the perfect wines to go with Anna’s culinary masterpieces, as well as keeping our theatregoers more than happy with our imported selections that they’d expect at the fanciest London theatres.”
The team will also continue the pub’s relationship with its attached theatre, the home of Red Line Productions theatre company. Menu items and drinks will occasionally be crafted around shows. (Memorably, during a 2015 production of Mike Bartlett’s play, Cock, the kitchen sold a penis-shaped pie.)
“The theatre is quite honestly the reason we took on this project. Incredible human beings, doing quite groundbreaking things,” says Thorpe. “We see our role in the pub to support them as much as possible, but have very exciting plans to more integrate the two arms together. It’s a fucking theatre pub after all – and the only one in Australia at that.”
The Old Fitz is slated to reopen on February 18.