Charlie Parker’s , the new “local bar” from Merivale that is tucked into the basement below the newly opened restaurant, Fred’s, is what you might call a neighbourhood bar with a twist.
According to Toby Marshall, one of the bartending duo behind the venue’s menu, the focus of the venue is the exploration of original flavours, within a neighbourhood-style bar setting. Marshall says that both he and Sam Egerton have been working on the concept for upward of two years with a few different ideas coming and going before they settled on the idea of botany and the exploration of botanical flavours.
“At Charlie Parker’s we’re very much inspired by the anatomy of plants and we take a very much top to tail approach around our drinks creation. The menu itself is this almost field notes book feel with the drinks list that works with everything from the nuts and fruit, to the leaf and flower, stem and branch, and even the roots and soil,” Marshall says. “And we work creatively around those spectrums. Almost taking whole plants and the reappropriating them into cocktails.”
Marshall and Egerton have been working in tandem since Palmer & Co and settled on the idea to focus on the botanical aspects in response to the concept of nose to tail eating. The top to tail exploration of botanical flavours sees the bar utilising all aspects of plants, rather than just the “prime cuts”, which Marshall says is something like the juice of a fruit.
“The concentrated sugars and acidity offer a lot of flavour, but think about what other flavours we are missing out on by ignoring the leaves, stems, flowers, trunks and even the soil,” he says. “We are very much trying to create a framework for endless creativity.
“But also definitely an ethos around it as well. Working with a top to tail approach has been involved in the drinks business for a long time – everything from Amari down to whiskies and even vodkas and liqueurs. They have always been using many parts of plants but to use that in a drink, we’ve sort of landed on this “closing the loop concept” but also an endless creative spectrum to work within, that is not overly themed.
“We’re not a 1920s bar, we’re not a speakeasy by theme – we are definitely a hidden bar underneath a really nice restaurant but this top to tail approach is creative but also with an end to end approach.”
While the cocktails don’t have names and are set out on the menu using dominant flavours and ingredients as guides – as one would read a food menu.
“The drinks do change pretty regularly, we print them out separately and the menu reads as a food menu would, there’s no names to the drinks, it’s more like a list of ingredients as you would see on a food menu,” he says.
Marshall gives the example of a mandarin cocktail that was on the opening cocktail list. The drink uses many aspects of the fruit, including the mandarin juice as a reduction, the pulp, and the skin in a bitters. The drink also features pecans, with the Pisco in the cocktail smoked with pecan shells, while the nuts themselves have been used in a syrup.
While “closing the loop” and sustainability is naturally a part of the core “top to tail” concept, Marshall says that there is more of a focus of looking at the menu as an whole entity and drawing parallels in flavours as the menu progresses through the spectrum from sweet to bitter and beyond.
While the menu is going rotate through various drinks, Marshall says that there is a distinct focus on not sticking to a daily, weekly, or even seasonal style menu.
“The list currently has eight cocktails on it, but that is not to say that it will always have eight cocktails on it,” he says. “The drinks do change pretty regularly, we print them out separately and the menu reads as a food menu would, there’s no names to the drinks, it’s more like a list of ingredients as you would see on a food menu. So there is a nice holistic approach to the drink and using its ingredients.
“But it is by no means is that our singular drive. There are drinks on there that are evocative of senses of place. There are a couple that are evocative of bushwalking or the forest floor or even Centennial Park, or places that we have been inspired by. But again we change the lists pretty often, the idea is that some of them are quite short run and we’re excited about it.”
The drink inspired by Sydney’s iconic Centennial Park features savoury and vegetal elements that reflect the experience of having visited the park with botanicals like nasturtium, wattlebrush, jasmine and kikuyu grass featuring in the drink. In fact, the team got a little carried away with this drink and ended up in Centennial Park early one morning foraging for the botanical elements.
“It was a creative tangent that we went on, referring to that sense of place, and to transport people through some of the essences and feelings,” he says. “You know drinks are not necessarily just lemon juice and sugar. Here is this idea that we can transport people a little bit, to somewhere for a bit of an experience.”
Along with an innovative approach to the menu, Marshall says that the back bar is an intriguing element all on its own. He says that while the bar is not an Australian craft spirits only venue, all of the products have interesting stories that speak for themselves.
“We’ve spent the past two years working on it – and hopefully we’ll continue to grow the eclectic spirits menu,” he says. “So as you open the menu it’s this nice sort of venture into our own field notes we’ve collected over that time and the spirit list is constructed around interesting people and interesting producers, and different bits and pieces. So that is very much the feel of what we’ve gone for.”
The space itself is cosy and welcoming, and designed to feel like it has been in situ for a lot longer than the few days it has been open. It all fits into Marshall and Egerton’s assertion that the bar is first and foremost a neighbourhood oriented space that just happens to offer a bit extra to its locals and regulars.
“We love the idea of adding to the great bar culture that already exists in this city,” he says. “Charlie Parker’s is a neighbourhood bar really, that is at the forefront of our minds. It’s a neighbourhood bar in Paddington in the basement of Fred’s but we are definitely exploring original flavours and playing with interesting techniques.”