Employees Only, the world-renowned New York bar, will open a Sydney outpost this November – in a heritage-listed basement on Barrack Street in the CBD.
The Sydney speakeasy – which follows the opening of Employees Only bars in Hong Kong, Singapore and Miami – will be spearheaded by co-founder Dushan Zaric and Robert Krueger from EO New York, along with Sydney-native Anna Fang who has been brought on as bar manager (Krueger and Fang pictured above).
Krueger – who has worked for EO since December 2004, first as a food runner, bar back then bar manager – told BARS&clubs that the plan for the bar has been in the works for about three years.
“I signed on to the project last July, and the space has been secured since about that time – since then it’s just been moving forward on all fronts: negotiating with council, the heritage building, and getting our hours of operation set up with the powers that be,” he said.
The cocktail list for the venue will include a number of classics that made the original New York bar famous, along with bespoke drinks designed especially for Sydney – with alterations to the menu occurring “roughly seasonally”.
“There will be a couple of new drinks on the starting menu, but we’ll only have as many new cocktails as we’re happy with,” said Krueger. “Every menu that comes out, you’ll see more things coming from the local scene.
“And that’s the way it’s gone in the other venues – the first menu that comes out, we go with the stuff that we know, and iconic Employees Only drinks, and a couple of new things to balance it out. The creativity will come alive as the team coalesces.”
Given the well-documented regulatory challenges of opening a bar in Sydney, BARS&clubs asked Krueger why the harbour city was chosen as the location for the Australian Employees Only outpost.
“I think that Sydney is the more connected city internationally [versus Melbourne],” he explained. “In New York we meet people from Australia all the time, because Australians travel so much, and in Singapore too. But there’s a little more traffic between New York, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Singapore I would say, and that’s part of what we are – a place that has global regulars.
“Also, Employees Only is a prohibition-themed concept, and Sydney has been undergoing its prohibition fight in the form of lockout for five or six years now. The space we’ve got has a licence that we’re able to extend to 3 am – we’ll serve food and drinks until three – so we’ll be able to do what we always have done, which is be the last guys open, and be there when people get out of work.”
Unlike many of the bars in the Sydney CBD, which do not have dedicated, full-service kitchens, Employees Only will be a place where food and drink go hand in hand. The bistro menu will be led by head chef Aurelien Girault and will feature new dishes with a wide-reaching range of flavours, ingredients, cuisines and cultures to cater to the adventurous Sydney palate.
For those who’ve visited EO’s original bar, a handful of New York favourites will be carried over, including the famous steak tartare – made with hand cut filet mignon, roasted tomato puree, parsley, Dijon, capers, shallots and Employees Only hot sauce – as well as pancetta wrapped lamb chops with salsa verde, and the bone marrow popper.
As well as the fact that it’s a restaurant – and will serve an all-night menu from 5pm-3am – Krueger also points out another point of difference at EO, compared to other speakeasies in the nearby area.
“The music gets a little more party level at EO,” he explains. “We don’t have a dancefloor, but people like to boogie together and the place is designed so people bump into each other.
“We have banquettes and booths where people can chill out with their friends but at the bar there’s a lot of places where you can only lean, and you’ll be in the midst of a lot of people.”
The location of the Sydney venue is also the most unique out of all the EO bars, being the only location housed in a basement. And while it will still have a number of signature EO elements – including the neon ‘psychic’ sign and EO-branded awning – the team says they’re committed to creating a space unique to Sydney.
In terms of layout, the front bar – featuring a curved, brass bar top and mirrored, backlit shelf – leads on to the dining room, complete with the aforementioned booth seating. There will also be a private dining space to fit thirty.
And of course, at the heart of it all are the same ideals that EO was founded on – caring for people in the service industry as well as ‘regular’ guests.
“We want people to be hurrying in the closeout of their bars so that they can come and take care of themselves, and so we can take care of them on their way home,” said Krueger. “That’s what Employees Only was founded for and there’s definitely a need for it in the CBD.”