A ‘new vintage’ bar in the heart of Wollongong

Mae Mabel, which opened last month, serves up ‘overlooked classic cocktails’ and takes its inspiration from the eclectic stylings of the 70s. 

Co-owner, Christina Paterno, spoke to Bars & Clubs about her journey to arriving at Mae Mabel. 

“I grew up in hospitality,” Christina says.

“My parents owned sort of mom-and-pop operations ever since I was born, so I guess you could say it is in my blood,” she continues. 

Christina moved from Kiama, in the NSW South Coast, to Sydney when she was 18, taking a job at Gazebo in Elizabeth Bay. 

“I’d say most of my formal training came from them. I ended up doing a stint as a restaurant manager, and that’s where my love and passion for wine, and worldly products was ignited.”

This passion for drinks led Christina to New York, where she spent a decade working at up-market cocktail bars, including Dead Rabbit. Alongside Dead Rabbit’s head bartender, Pam Wiznitzer, Christina then opened up Seamstress, before working at the Refinery Rooftop. 

“It was a total trip learning this sort of American style of service and their emphasis on product and hospitality,” Christina says. 

Eventually, after an additional stint in L.A. (alongside her hospitality career, Christina is an actress on screen and stage), Christina settled back on the South Coast of NSW, opening Little Betty’s with her brother. 

“Mae Mabel is our second venue, and we’ve done that about two years after Little Betty’s,” she adds.

Explaining the theme of the venue, Christina says: “The 70s is the decade that it leans on the heaviest, but the overarching concept is more of a ‘new vintage’ vibe.”

“Little Betty’s is very eclectic, vintage, a little Parisian-influenced style, and we wanted Mae Mable to be able to sit within a relatable family to that. 

“We’ve always been very influenced by music and design concepts, [and] the 70s is where that comes into play at the venue. But what we’re really hoping is that what people take from it is that there’s grabs and little call backs to each decade.”

Mae Mabel is another venue playing into the wider trend of nostalgia in hospitality, and Christina explained how the bar is engaging with cultural changes beyond the drinks world.

“I just feel like there’s sort of this influence of disco resurgence – again, I’m going back to music and how that influences the way we dress, the way we speak, where we want to eat and drink. 

“I feel like creating a space with a bit of nostalgia is so important – the same way a story goes hand-in-hand with a bottle of wine. People love to know who made it, how they made it, and what their background was.

“I think that some of those qualities are just intrinsic,” Christina says. 

Unearthing the hidden prizes of the past is reflected by Mae Mabel’s drinks offering too, with a focus upon alternative classic cocktails. 

“We definitely wanted to resurrect a few of those lost gems,” Christina explains. 

“We’ve grabbed some gems from the 30s and 50s Hollywood, and tried to form this list of these little treasures – you know, classics for a reason.”

These include El Presidente, a cocktail that dates back to the 1910s, and was described by drinks historian David Wondrich as the “Cubanised answer to the Manhattan” in Imbibe!

The menu is divided into different drink styles: Up, Dark and Stirred, Sours, Tall and Short. There are some modern classics in there too, including the Oaxacan Old Fashioned, first created by Philip Ward at New York’s Death & Co in 2007. 

Mae Mabel staff are breathing new life into these classic and contemporary cocktails, through the use of Australian products. 

“We’ve got a wonderful product on offer in spirits and wines in Australia, and the intention is about showcasing those products in the OG classic drinks – seeing how the new world can be interwoven into that old world,” Christina comments. 

Ultimately, for Christina, Mae Mable forms part of a Wollongong hospitality scene which has been transformed in recent years. 

“There is this whole group of small bars, wine bars and restaurants opening up – the city is so different to when I grew up here,” she says. 

“It feels like it’s gone through this entire renaissance really, getting revitalised, and nightlife is a big, big part of that. 

“The most attractive part was to be part of this collective of restaurateurs and bar operators that are creating the landscape of Wollongong and the culture of Wollongong,” Christina concludes.

Mae Mabel is located at 2/74 Kembla St, Wollongong NSW 2500.
The bar is open from 5pm to midnight, Thursday-Sunday.

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