The quaint Cove Deli in Manly seems like any old Mediterranean style deli in Australia. Its painted teal blue with marble benches, cured meat hanging from the ceiling, jars of pickles and tins of sardines lining the shelves.
But as you heave open one of its heavy vintage fridge doors, you find something unexpected – a spiral staircase leading to Sydney’s newest underground speakeasy, The Cumberland. Bars & Clubs ventured down into the sandstone encased basement to meet owner Matt Clifton, to learn about the importance of history, the finer details, and a good team.
Clifton named The Cumberland after the county that used to encompass Manly, roughly from Woy Woy to the airport. Upstairs, the deli takes its name in the same vein, inspired by the parish of Manly Cove within the county.
Paying homage to the history of the area is just one example of the weight that he puts behind every little detail to The Cumberland.
“There’s a story to everything we’ve done, and we’ve done it for a reason. And everything we’ve done has had research behind it,” Clifton said.
Inspired by his work and travels across the world, Clifton said he wanted to create a space that has an authentic character and atmosphere.
“Some of the ones you see in Barcelona, and the Italian and Portuguese bars are really like speakeasies, but just have a lot of character around them. They’ve obviously been there a bloody long time,” Clifton said.
“Trying to grab some of that kind of culture or that kind of feeling and atmosphere and be able to recreate that… I’ve always wanted to create something that was a little bit old school and a bit more pre prohibition, but have meaning and have resemblance of here.”
Clifton worked with design firm AZB Creative, who have worked on other Sydney spaces like Mjølner and Kittyhawk, to take The Cumberland from concept to reality.
Inside, the original architecture has been stripped back and added to, with Manly sandstone and convict carved clay bricks prominently featured. It’s certainly a far cry from when Clifton got the space around 18 months ago, when it was an underutilised storeroom only accessible via lift.
The furnishings of The Cumberland are accented by vintage pieces from around the world and as Clifton points them out, it’s clear he’s proud of how well they’ve all tied together.
“The original sewer lines that run underneath through Manly, we’ve got all new sewer plates to put in those little details. It’s all solid bronze, like they used to be back in the day. Obviously they’re heavy, its like 150 kilos for a sewer plate,” he said.
“Then just like bits and pieces like the way the old Italian and Spanish restaurants used to have these mirrors at just below head height around the room. I wanted to have beautiful finishes so we hand did all the parquetry flooring.”
“My favorite pieces are the beer taps. I sourced and got the original Bishop of Bangkok beer taps, which was from the 1890s, the original cast brass free flying taps as two of them on the back bar.”
Extra detailed care has also been taken in the bathrooms, which house a reclaimed Thomas Crapper toilet from 1839, shining brass reclaimed cisterns and a urinal predating 1930.
Clifton says “everything you’ll come across is pre-World War Two for sure, and then 70 per cent is pre-World War One, so pre-prohibition.”
“I think over time, people will come down here, and then they’ll come down again for the second time or third time and they’ll see things like ‘I didn’t even see that the first time!’ And they’ll keep finding new things every time they come in.”
The Cumberland is another on the list of the MJC Group of Companies, of which Clifton is Managing Director. But unlike popular Manly venues Donny’s and InSitu, Clifton has recruited some heavyweight helpers this time around, in the form of Merivale veterans Pete Ehemann and Petr Dvoracek.
“These guys have been in the industry far longer than I have,” said Clifton.
“When you do something, you try and find the best people in those areas. They far outweigh me in experience in cocktails and bar service culture. I can create a space like this, and I find really good people to do what I can’t do.”
Ehemann and Dvoracek are the designers of The Cumberland’s specialty themed cocktail list, with 19 cocktails inspired by the County of Cumberland and featuring local ingredients.
Clifton had always been a single owner operator, and getting the pair on board was different, but he said it was integral to the launch.
“If you have the ability to find good people and be the glue and bring them all together, you’ll get a really great product.”
Pictures by Dan Gosse.