A look inside Swillhouse’s late-night music bar The Caterpillar Club

The Caterpillar Club

Located deep beneath the streets of the CBD, Sydney hospitality group Swillhouse swung open the doors to its latest venue The Caterpillar Club just one week ago.

Licensed until 4am, the dimly lit basement bar dishes up live music every night of the week with candlelit red leather booths and a snazzy DJ booth right at its heart.

Two days into the opening, primed for an exciting first weekend, Bars and Clubs caught up with Swillhouse Creative Director Jordan McDonald to chat about The Caterpillar Club and all it has to offer.

“It’s the kind of hospitality space that we get to really do what we feel we do best, which is serve up the type of environment that we would like to hang out in. It touches on all of the things that excite us, and it’s a space that’s welcoming of all kinds,” says Jordan.

“Great music, great food, great drinks, open late – those are the things that excite us.”

At its core, The Caterpillar Club is a music bar. With a programme of entertainment rocking daily, and the entire venue operating on a walk-ins-only basis, everybody is welcome at all times.

“While we do have a fully operating kitchen with a shit hot Chef who we love and respect, Isobel Whelan-Little, it is first and foremost a bar, and one that gives ceremony to a great and really diverse range of music.

“We’ve got a massive private record collection which is full of gold. There are 10,000 different albums up there on the walls, it’s a space to discover new music. It’s probably the only venue in Australia where there are no playlists. If you’re in there, you’re hearing something that has been picked with intention from the collection.

“There’ll never be any two days that are the same in terms of what you’ll hear. There’s a lot to discover in that collection, so it’s going to be inspiring for DJs, and even customers who eyeball something on the walls and ask us to give it a spin.

“We’ve decked it out with the classiest shit. We held off on booking bands for the first week to allow the venue to find its tempo before we throw everything at it, but we intend to have live bands every night of the week.”

As the legendary hospitality group behind the likes of Shady Pines Saloon, 2023 ALIA award winners The Baxter Inn and Le Foote, and the former Frankie’s Pizza, Swillhouse is no stranger to an iconic venue. While The Caterpillar Club has a personality of its own, Jordan says that it carries the same attention to design that the rest of the portfolio has become renowned for.

“One of the main typifying factors of any of the Swillhouse venues is the artistic and creative design of the space, that plays as a really big priority.

“It operates as one big symbiotic picture, the design, the layout, the flow. It’s been changed entirely from what it was prior, we took the entire shell and re-envisioned how it would flow, and because of that, intricacies can be found at each step of the journey.

“The Caterpillar Club experience is a very creative one. You’re getting music and being inspired by new sounds that you may not have discovered yet. The walls are adorned with new artwork, they’re all original pieces that have been painted by hand for the club specifically, by Allie Webb. You’ve also got a blend of really sick, weird, interesting artefacts and antiques that we’ve collected along the way.

“But it’s the welcoming atmosphere also. While so much effort has been put into this place, it is entirely unpretentious. Anybody could be welcomed in and shown as good a time as anybody else. There are no VIPs in our venues.

“We hope that [our guests] will come in, discover some new music, and be wowed by just how rich and decadent the carpentry, the artwork and the design of the space feels.”

Drinks wise, guests can expect a creative menu of house cocktails curated by Beverage Director Lello Arzedi, alongside classic cocktails, wines, and a small selection of premium beers.

“It’s a really fun, kind of cheeky drinks list,” says Jordan. “There’s a lot of playful elements in there. We have an old school ritual kind of shot list which is a little bit interactive, and you have to play with the bartender to nail it. There’re tiki cocktails, ludicrously brilliant, bright and expressive cocktails.

“Modesty really doesn’t play a part in the picture we’re painting down at The Caterpillar Club, it’s a very vivid experience and that’s showcased in the cocktails.”

And that same element of exploration goes for the bamboo room, a tiki-style bar-inside-the-bar complete with thatched walls and unusual artefacts, running all the same gears as the main bar with the exception of one exclusive cocktail, the Caterpillar Downfall.

“You’ve got to be there to experience that one. There’s a little slice of secret sauce in that cocktail,” says Jordan.

“The funnest spaces to exist in, are those where you can be a bit surprised and find interesting touchpoints along the way. We loved the idea of having a space that has an identity of its own, but it’s not jarring with the rest of it.

“When you’re down there, it’s a very immersive and transportive experience. It’s certainly a different flavour when you find the bamboo room, but you’re not surprised. You’re like, of course. It feels fitting that you might stumble upon a space that continues the path of exploration. You’re almost expecting to be thrown a few curveballs along the way.”

The supper menu at The Caterpillar Club could be considered an oversized cocktail menu, made up of dishes such as fish fingers, pig’s head scrumpet, beef dripping chips and cheeseburgers.

“The food menu is designed to complement a night of engaging with different parties and dancing. It’s not a big heavy sit-down feast, everything can be eaten with your fingers. In fact, there’s very little cutlery in The Caterpillar Club.”

After the first few days of opening, Jordan says that the response has been overwhelming.

“We’ve been pretty deep in restaurant world for the last few years, which is an amazing game to play, but honing in and really focusing on a party bar has been something that comes really naturally to us, and I think the response has kind of echoed that.

“It’s been such an immediate blow away success. You don’t know what the response is going to be until you open the doors, but we’re currently in the whirlwind and it’s going fucking crazy.”

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