If you were to play word association with Sydney’s infamous Club 77, “all-night bar menu” and “European-inspired cocktails” probably wouldn’t even rate a mention. But in what is now the bar scene’s worst-kept secret, legendary publican Jaime Wirth has taken over the very venue he once used to keep heaving well past sunrise as one of the Bang Gang DJs (Jaime Doom).
The spiritual home to the nascent Australian electro movement, which hosted Lost Valentinos, Ajax and Cut Copy, 77 (as it was affectionately known) has cemented its place in pop-culture history. It’s where fluoro lived and died, gender and genre didn’t exist and the toilets never truly flushed.
Accordingly, its renewal is a glorious, full-circle tale involving the former DJ. Wirth has arguably changed this city for the better in the past decade with his uniquely furnished Drink 'n' Dine pubs, including The Norfolk, Forresters, Oxford Tavern, as well as the dearly departed Abercrombie, Duke Bistro and Flinders. Wirth recently made news when he sold his remaining three operations to Dixon Hospitality, freeing him up to start on fresh projects with a presumably hefty amount of capital.
“We were approached by Mike Goodey, who has owned the space since forever,” Wirth says. “He kept it going as a nightclub for as long as he could, but with the lockouts, it wasn’t really feasible. He asked us if we wanted to start something new with him and now here we are.”
Wirth is quick to point out that as a late-night bar, it sits outside his previous work with Drink ‘n’ Dine, and is essentially he and co-conspirator Mike Delaney’s first true solo project. He says that initially 77’s unique history meant that it felt weird putting good food and booze in the middle of a place once renowned for, well, pingers and bangers.
“Some people may be freaked out, I get that,” he laughs. “I was kind of freaked out in the beginning. Many memories of packing up our party at 6am came flooding back. But in the end, Club 77 had run its course and it’s a good space and license to put to use.”
“[I’m] not going to lie. This one has been pretty special. We had to replace pretty much everything and start again from scratch. We even fixed the flooding urinals.”
In terms of how he perceives the new space, Wirth can summarise it in one sentence: “Pretzels, cocktails, beers, cheese and dancing.”
More specifically, the new 77 will have a somewhat bizarre theme, something Wirth and Delaney have now become known for. “The vibe is Moldova 1972,” he says – completely seriously. “It takes cues from Eastern Bloc bars and old-world drinking dens. It houses what may be Sydney’s longest bar, booth seating to slink into, leather padded surfaces and oddities from around globe and beyond.” In the spirit of Barons, The Flinders and the 77 of yesteryear, Wirth hopes the new bar will sets the scene for “late chats and stiff drinks in dark corners”.
Expect former-Soviet-inspired drinks, such as Absinth Old Fashioneds and Goldwasser Martinis, not to mention that late-night bar menu that will surely challenge the Frankies of this world. There will be baked-to-order pretzels with hot cheese; deep-fried garlic; fried chicken ribs; a truffle-cheese sandwich; and amazing sausage plates with house-pickled vegetables. Seriously. Baked-to-order pretzels.
Wirth is acknowledging the traditional late-night ravers and risk-taking DJs who are arguably the spiritual owners of the land with at least three nights a week of DJs, with a party night on Sundays. There’ll also be a tribute to fallen comrade and crown prince of Australian electronic music, Ajax. “We will have to do something for him for sure, we just haven’t figured it out yet. It’s so sad he’s not here to see it himself.”
He’s just been bought out, and yet he’s buying back in. Is Jamie Wirth mad? Or does he just have a higher plan we don’t know about?
“77 has always had a special place in our hearts,” he says. “It was impossible not do it.”
Club 77 will reopen in mid-February at 77 William Street, King Cross.