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Keystone team back with a new Sydney bar

Three of the team who helped form the Keystone Group, Anthony Prior, John Duncan and Simon Barbato are back together and have opened a new venue in Pyrmont.

The Whirly Bird promises fine poultry and fine liquor and Prior told TheShout that after taking over the venue and stripping it back to put in something “a bit cleaner, a bit warmer and more comfortable” the team was ready to move forward.

“This concept is something that we had thought about for a while and figured this was a good opportunity to give that idea a go; whether this is going to keep that particular concept forever, I’m not too sure, we’ll just see how people go with it,” Prior said.

“It’s a big venue so it’s got to have a good balance of both food and drinks. It is a comfortable drinking venue, a good pub, we’ve got a really good team who have put together a good drinks list. So there is a real focus on the drinks side. The guys who are heading this up, I worked closely with them previously at The Rook and they’ve come up with the drinks list.”

The bar was opened for eight weeks before its official launch party and Prior added: “It’s a fun concept and it’s new so we are just going to have some fun with it especially as we come into summer and now that we’ve been able to iron out a few of the early kinks hopefully people will now be able to come in and just enjoy it.”

The bar at the Whirly Bird in Pyrmont

In terms of a signature cocktail, Prior said that the concept for the drinks had been built around music. “All the drinks are aligned with artists and a particular album and then the drinks list comes together like the parts of a song,” he told TheShout. “You’ve got the intro, the bridge, the chorus and then the outro.

“The intro is obviously the aperitif-style, the bridge is an elegant concept, then there’s what you’d class as a bit more main-stay with the chorus and then the digestif style for the outro and it all makes for a really nice concept.”

“The wine list is pretty short and sharp, but there are some nice styles of wine in here outside of what you might normally expect to see on a wine list. And what we’ve really made sure of firstly is the quality, so we have a Hunter Semillon which is really strong and we have a Chablis if people want to go a bit more premium.

“It’s the same thing with the reds, there’s a few that a more affordable and some that, while not super-expensive, they are good quality.

“And then the beer and cider is obviously another part and we’ve put together good list that you can see behind the bar. It’s not full craft, but there is a good selection of craft beer and again we just wanted to look at things a bit differently, so for example we’ve chosen Melbourne Bitter over Carlton Draught; it’s still got a mainstream skew, but there’s something a bit different about it.

Anthony Prior in the new bar

Ultimately Prior says that he does expect the beer list to change and for the bar to rotate through different beers, telling TheShout: “We’ll look to try and work with some beer partners. I think that aligns well with the food, beer and poultry is something that we can do in a really fun way; just doing stuff where the beer is a focus means we can work on things with different suppliers as well.”

The team has also recently taken over Angelo’s in Cabarita and Prior told TheShout that as a result of the hectic way things finished up at Keystone he was very happy to take a few months to step away, spend some time with his young family and reflect.

“The good thing is that we were able to come out of the other side and things like that do help you to remember what is important in life. Getting in here and working hands-on with this new venue has been great because I enjoy it, I enjoy working with the staff and I enjoy meeting new people, talking with the customers so that’s what’s really positive, being able to be a bit more hands-on and a bit less corporate.

“That’s what we built our business on, that’s who we are. We never lost sight of that, when we were a big business you can’t get to the pubs as much as you’d like to but dealing with the customers and staff has always been a very important part of what we do. Hopefully that’s a part of how we build our culture and future success, we won’t change that part of the business. You’ve got to get to know who your customers are, you can’t just hope that the business is going to run itself.”

The Whirly Bird is on Union Street in Pyrmont and Prior added that it was not a conscious decision to choose a venue outside of the lockout zone.

“It was more that we saw Pyrmont as the opportunity. It’s an area that is continuing to grow and develop,” he said.

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