I was recommended about this place to have good food and great cocktails. But I was not warned about the dinner show I would get.
Back in New York in 2004, when Employees Only opened, the neo-Prohibition aesthetic was getting a head of steam. Fourteen years later and even without the help of an indiscreet bouncer it’s safe to say the secret is out. The bar has outposts in Singapore, Miami, Hong Kong and Los Angeles, and now Sydney.
Located in a heritage-listed basement on Barrack Street, near Martin Place and Wynyard and hidden away behind an unassuming neon “psychic” sign is Sydney’s very own version of the legendary and seminal New York establishment. Walk down the stairs and you will find the place pumping, the bar thronged, the larger dining area packed and the tarot-reader by the door plenty busy.
Not really, I came at 6pm and the action had not started. Also the city was just coming back from lockdown and it was a Saturday night, so the city folks have not returned to the CBD.
People come for the drinks, but the food is by no means a mere cheese-plate-and-olives affair. The full menu runs from 5-11 pm, the bar menu runs to 3 am and, as with all Employees Only bars, complimentary chicken soup is doled out to the faithful at closing time.
The dark timber and brass highlights of Tim Leveson’s interior design are spiked with illumination from skylights around the room’s edges. Executive Chef Richard Duff’s New York Bistro inspired menu gathers from French, Italian and Australian influences, and is flawlessly executed by Head Chef Leo Garnier.
EO SIGNATURE Steak Tartare
Hand-made At Your Table, Crostini & Salad
I thought they would prepare it elsewhere because I was seated at the bar. The entire steak tartare kit was delivered to the bar counter.
The bartender that had been preparing my drinks then took the ingredients and started to assemble the steak tartare right before my eye.
It was a really tasty steak tartare. The mustard, onions and capers combined very well with coarsely chopped beef steak. The choice of the cut was excellent, there was not a strand of vein or chewy bits. Came with a simply dressed water cress salad and freshly toasted crostini.
EO Truffle & Crab Fries
lime pearls, sriracha aioli
And you had to have fries at the bar to go with the drinks. The fries were enhanced with crab meat and truffle shavings and topped with sriracha aioli and finger lime pearls. Savoury from the fries, sourness from the finger lime, sweetness from the crab and heat from the sriracha combined perfectly.
The bar itself is brass and gleaming, the garnishes laid out on it in heavy tumblers. The music is ’80s pop, and the bartenders wear chef’s jackets with the word “Bartender” embroidered where a person’s name might go. Framed artworks underline the ’20s connection with images of zeppelins and flappers.
The bar was very well stocked with over 20 kinds of gin available.
Tromba Blanco Tequila shaken with Fresh Citrus, Cointreau, Agave & Orange Blossom. Served over ice
Started with a margarita, ok.
Wyborowa Vodka, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur shaken with Fresh Lemon & Puréed Blackberries. Served straight upAmelia
Next came their best seller, a cocktail named after the female aviator Amelia Earhart. Not my style.
Playing With Fire
Appleton Estate Signature blend, Overproof Rum, Chivas 12 year and Amaretto shaken with Cinnamon, Pink Guava, Peach, Finger Limes & Fresh Lemon. Served tall in Tiki mug
The night’s getting more fun and a tiki cocktail was in order. The cocktail had a smoky taste from the burnt rosemary. The paper straw disintegrated before I could finish the drink.
Gin and Tonic
Stuck to my trusted old friend, the gin and tonic.
Promptly at 7.30pm and 9.30pm, the knowing crowd would gather around the bar and the burlesque bar top dancing started. Layer by layer, satin sashes and feather tops flew across the bar until there was no more. The excitement around the room crescendoed and was electrifying no less.
You are allowed to take any pictures you want, but anything more you would need adult consent to come to this website 😉 After all, it was good, clean fun. You would not want to sit at the dinner area because all the action happens at the bar. You have been advised!
Employees Only Bar
9a Barrack St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Tel : +61 447 108 043
Visited in Mar 2022