Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mayor's Top 5 - Newtown Pubs

Well this is the big one - the Mayor's list of the top pubs in Newtown. Hopefully this one will not please all my readers - everyone has an opinion on Newtown pubs and I'm really looking forward to some heated feedback. Newtown has a generous range of great pubs - covering most tastes; although it's unfortunate timing that both the Newtown and Imperial have been closed for the last couple of years, leaving the area without a noted gay pub for the first time in decades.

An interesting fact is that all the pubs in Newtown have operated on the same site since the last last century; although most have changed names, and one was closed for a while, that's still an impressive record. The downside to that is that apart from the re-opening of the Cricketers in 1999 as Kelly's, (replacing an unpopular McDonalds) no new pubs have opened in Newtown in more than 100 years. If you're ever downstairs and sober-ish at the Townie, take the time to check out the historical posters on the walls. The photo of the old swill-friendly bar in the Union in particular is a corker. I can also recommend this site and the Council's archive for some history.

A downside to preponderance of great pubs in Newtown is the dearth of decent bars; Madam Fling Flong being pretty much the only one. Let's hope Clover's new laws will eventually encourage the opening of some more bars in Newtown, enabling me to compose a Mayor's Top 5 Bars. In the meantime, here are the Mayor's Top 5 Newtown Pubs:

Honourable Mention - Nice Fac(ad)e, Shame About ...

The Sydney Park Hotel and The Union Hotel get an honourable mention for their classic Art Deco exteriors, but neither of them are really popular Newtown destinations. To be generous you could call Sydney Park Hotel tired - as the St Peter's end of King Street keeps picking up here's hoping that St Peters Hotel will start to attract a more varied clientele.

The Union Hotel has more character - at least in the front bar. For some reason the back bar was converted into a massive RSL style bistro a few years ago that has all the character of an airport departure lounge.

... and so to the Top 5.

Number 5 Zanzibar

First entry in the Top 5 was a close one between Kelly's on King and ZanziBar. Both have improved noticeably in the last 6 months or so - Kelly's de-emphasising its Irishness (and seemingly running Karaoke 24/7 - how many times has the Mayor seen Fingers do Gay Bar ?), and ZanziBar de-emphasising the Moroccan theme that it inherited when it ceased being the Oxford.

ZanziBar just pipped Kelly's into the Top 5 for its more recent mini-renovation; downstairs now has an urban feel, complete with band posters and graffiti, and upstairs has become more of a club. Zanzibar also has Newtown's only rooftop bar which the perfect place for a gin tonic as the sun sets over King Street.

Number 4: The Sando

The Sandringham Hotel (known to all as the Sando) has been a mainstay of the Sydney live music scene for ages now. It seems to have finally survived the run in with the neighbours (who moved next to a pub that had been there for 100 years and started complaining about the noise - a pet hate of the Mayor's) and now reliably runs live music both downstairs (often free) as well as in the dedicated and sound-proofed gig area upstairs.

As well, it is rumoured that God has started drinking here since the Shakespeare changed its name. I'm pretty sure he'd be happy at how the Sando has maintained its unpretentious character over the years.

Number 3: Town Hall (The Townie)

Aptly known as the Downfall, anyone who's been in the Town Hall before midnight would justifiably be surprised by this placing. Horrifying by day, the Townie (of course) comes into its own after 11pm or so as the crowds drift in after gigs/shows or from other bars in the area. The Friday and Saturday night DJ sets add life to the downstairs crowd; upstairs, formerly the epicentre of late night townie life, is slightly calmer, and the smoking areas outside are always jammed.

Despite the size of the venue and the late hours it keeps, the vibe of the Townie is always chilled - non-judgemental, pretty much dick-head free, and friendly. The one downside of The Townie would have to be the bouncers, almost comically unable to detect the inebriation or otherwise of punters, and frequently and randomly restricting entry to completely sober patrons.

The Mayor was lucky enough to visit the manager's residence upstairs at the Townie a few years ago, and is very much hoping that one day the extensive outdoors area can be converted to Newtown's second rooftop bar.

Number 2: Coopers Hotel

Coopers Hotel, which started life as the Shakespeare in 1869, and was known for a while as the Cooper's Arms, has successfully survived a recent renovation managing to maintain the local feel of the downstairs bar while converting the upstairs backpackers into a sophisticated bar, bistro and outdoor dining/smoking area - even if the fishpond didn't last.

Like The Bank (name and location unchanged since 1880), the Coopers has become a destination bar, drawing outsiders to the various birthdays, engagement parties and the like upstairs on weekends. Recently live music has been re-introduced to the Coopers after a couple of years absence. Really the biggest problem with the Coopers these days is that it has to close at midnight.

Mayor's Number 1: The Courthouse Hotel

Perennial Newtown favourite and television star, Newtown's Courthouse aka 'The Courtie' has to be one of the best places in Sydney to while away a Sunny Sunday afternoon. The much loved beer garden has undergone a pretty serious tidy up recently that hasn't dimmed its popularity with jug drinking locals, and indoors has remained as grotty as ever. The pokies (such a key issue in 'Love is A Four Letter Word') are unobtrusive, and there's even a pinnies room. Being off the beaten track means that it draws a mostly local crowd, fiercely protective of the friendliest bar in Newtown.


  1. phew... if the bank had made this list, i think i would have busted something. talk about excercise in killing character.

  2. karLos I couldn't agree more. The Bank used to rock - it now SUCKS. Is a great symbol for what's wrong with Sydney's pub culture vs Melbourne's (I'm Sydney born and bread btw).

  3. Glad to see the new-look Zanz – or the ONO (Old New Oxford) as my friends and I are calling it these days – make the list.

  4. All good bars; however GreogoryPeckory' list:
    1. CourtHouse
    2. Carlisle Castle
    3. Duke of Edinburgh (almost Newtown)
    4. Coopers Arms
    5. The Sando

  5. Thanks for the comments all. @Dr_Nic - I like the ONO as a name; and I also miss the old Bank.

    @GregoryPeckory - let's keep the Carlisle a secret shall we - our refuge if the Courtie gets too popular.

  6. A good list and fair, but, not having put in quite as many late nights as the Mayor, I'd drop the Townie to #5 or even flick it in favour of the Carlisle.

  7. I'm really surprised that the Zanzibar with its patronage of distinct non-locals actually gets a mention here, and above Kelly's too!! I'm completely over the arrogant attitude of the staff there.

    Another surprise in this list is the Coopers Arms. Ever since they removed the only pool table and glassed-up the front windows it seems to have the personality of an angry hermit.

    I can't agree more with the comment about the need for smaller bars such as Madame Fling Flong. If you look downstairs from MFF, you'll notice Soni's - a fantastic tapas bar with a decent view, open windows in summer, and great service.

  8. Thanks Mule; I could even re-do this list for various times of the week; Carlisle would feature highly for afternoons and mealtimes - the new (ish) bistro is probably the best pub food in Newtown. And I'd be mighty disappointed if everyone had the same list !

    @MissWired - Fully agree re the windows at the Coopers, that was my favourite seat at the Coopers. I'm assuming there were jsut too many people smoking and drinking on the footpath there. Others share your opinion on the Zanzi - last year it would not have made my list at all but I honestly reckon it's changed a lot this year and the locals are back.

    I was hesitating whether to classify 'Cafes with booze' such as Soni and Funky as bars. In my mind there's a clear difference between Fling Flong (clearly bar) and Soni/Funky (still cafe) but I'm not sure I could explain it in technical terms ! The Spanish place (recently renamed De Niro's, still on the market) also falls into that gap. Maybe we chose to treat them as bars they will become bars ...

    Thanks for the feedback.

  9. Re: locals back at Zanzi - not really. It's still way too full of out-of-town wankers. Kelly's is the local pub - it should have been in there instead.

    I echo the comments re: The Coopers. I'd have chosen The Duke of Edinburgh (if you were prepared to drift into Enmore) instead.

  10. I agree with the other comments about The Bank and The Zanzibar (aka The Oxford without Tits), but I have to admit to not liking Kelly's _just_ 'cause it _used_ to be Macdonalds... Phsycologically, it still smells like chip frying oil to me...

    (And I'd have voted for my stumbling-distance-local - The Golden Barley - if I'd had the option...)

  11. I read this when it was first posted and was so very glad the Carlisle wasn't mentioned... preferring to keep it "between us"

    ah well...

  12. Only time I've been to Kelly's it had all the atmosphere of, well, a straight-out-of-the-catalogue Oirish pub. Could be anywhere in the world. In fact, I'm pretty sure I went to the same pub in Riga, Latvia for breakfast once. And the loud karaoke singers they pay completely destroy the ability to do anything but drink in (destroyed by warbling) silence.

    Carlisle Castle and Courthouse FTW!

  13. I have to agree with Mr Mayor..I really miss the old Bank, In fact I really miss the old Townie, nd the old Sando, and the old Kellys etc.
    I'm pretty much in agreement with the top 5, except I would have put the Duke (Newtown sorta) in at the expense of the Zanzibar..And what about the Botany View?

  14. I would like to say that as a resident who lives next door to the Coopers hotel, that I'm very happy that the licence of the hotel does not extend past midnight.

    I along with other residents who live within close proximity to the hotel, including the osteopathic business, have to tolerate especially during the summer months, noise, secondary cigarette smoke and unwanted noisy and criminal behaviour from late night intruders to the back lane (Crooks) as a result of drunken patrons of the hotel.

    While we understand that people who come to Newtown wish to enjoy the amenity and vibe of the rich inner west night life, it should not be at the expense of long term residents. Definitely not so that the owner of the Coopers hotel can increase his profit margin.