There’s a new bar beneath King Street in Newtown, and it’s now open until the wee hours.
Pleasure Club is the latest bar to open up from the Odd Culture Group, and it’s got a rather late-trading licence, with the doors closing at 4am.
But it’s not a one-dimensional late night boozer the group is opening. Instead, they’re catering to all stages of the evening, with doors open at 4pm and closing at 4am, Wednesday to Sunday. To do that, there’s a serious drink program going in with some top flight talent attached.
The Pleasure Club general manager — now, that’s quite a business card, no? — is Sam Kirk, an Australian who has spent the best of a decade working overseas and returned last year to run the re-opening of the Maurice Terzini-led Jacksons on George in the Sydney CBD.
Kirk spent time working in London with Matt Whiley at his former boundary-pushing bars, Peg & Patriot and The Fantastic Mr Fox. And they’re teaming up again to work on Pleasure Club, with Matt Whiley — whom you may know from his sustainability-focused bar, RE — coming on board to consult.
Expect live music and entertainment, which will be led by the group’s entertainment manager, Sabrina Medcalf, and a space that is “ethereal, dreamy, other-dimensiony,” as Sam says, envisioned by Odd Culture’s creative director, Nick Zavadszky. The opening drinks list — you can see that below — which Sam and Matt are working on, taps the nostalgia mine, with a feel of what Sam calls “Central Coast bogan nostalgia.”
It sounds like a lot of fun.
Get a look at the first pictures here.
I spoke to both Sam and Matt earlier in the year to find out more about what to expect — and you can read the full interviews (lightly edited and condensed for clarity) below.
Oh, and if it sounds like a place you’d like to work? They’re recruiting right now.
You can find Pleasure Club at 6 Wilson Street, Newtown — you can follow them on Instagram in the meantime at @alwaysapleasure.club.
Sam Bygrave: Sam Kirk, what’s your role at Pleasure Club? What’s the job title?
Sam Kirk: So currently I’m the GM and creative lead for Pleasure Club.
And Pleasure Club, what’s the big idea behind the place? What’s it all going to be about?
I’m going to quote the creative director here a little bit — I’m the drinks guy, not the overall concept guy. The idea is that it’s a bit of a pocket dimension. Just a nice place to escape the world a bit.
Okay. You’ve got a few things happening in there?
There’s a nice live music and entertainment program. And then just a really fun, thought-out drinks list as well, all sort of wrapped up in this very sort of ethereal, dreamy, other—dimensiony looking bar down in the basement.
Let’s talk about the drinks. What’s what’s gonna be the big idea behind the drinks list?
The concept is of seasons but not seasons in terms of the weather or the date. So seasons of menus based on sort of these overarching themes — the first one we’re going to open with, it’s called the Nostalgia Machine. That was fairly open to interpretation, which is great.
And so what sort of kind of drinks are you going to have on the Nostalgia Machine menu?
So it sort of tapped into my own personal nostalgia. It’s definitely Australiana, with a bit of a focus where I called it Central Coast bogan nostalgia. Just some memories and my own personal memories growing up around there, but I think they’re pretty translatable to a lot of other suburban youthhoods, teenage-hoods in Australia.
Are we going to see a goon box swinging on a Hill’s hoist or something?
So you’re dead on with some of the referencing. There will definitely be a drink on that menu inspired by Passion Pop.
I guess I’m in the development stages in there. One of the ones I’m excited about is, there’s definitely a chicken parm reference.
We’re also using the rotovap, we’ve got our hands on a bit of lab equipment and that’s one of the other parts of Pleasure Club, is that we’ll have a little lab set up with the idea that [we’re] translating these more vague menu ideas into something that’s drinkable.
You’re working with Matt Whiley as well, somebody you’ve worked with before, is that right?
Yeah, that’s it. Me and Matt go back a little bit. I actually used to work with him at Peg & Patriot and The Talented Mr. Fox, 10 years ago in London.
How did that come about this time around? You just moved back to Australia last year?
Yeah, I came back in the middle of last year to open Jackson’s on George.
[After that] I was looking for something that was a bit more cocktail-y for me. That’s always been my background. So Matt’s a good friend of mine. I knew there was some work around through another friend of his. I met the guys from Odd Culture Group. And then it all went from there, and now we’re in a bit of a whirlwind.
In terms of the breadth of the drinks list, is it going to be a big list? Or more of a shorter list?
It’s going to be a shorter list, looking at eight to 10 signatures, with the idea that it’ll be heavily based in that theme of the Nostalgia Machine.
And then we’ll throw a few more considered drinks on, not necessarily stuck on that theme, but to sort of split the late night service aspect of the bar.
How many people is it gonna hold?
We’ve got 120 seats. It’s a good size.
Is it gonna be table service-style or standing at the bar?
A bit 50-50. The idea is that the earlier service is a bit more table side, a bit more subdued I guess and then the late night, we’ll sort of see what happens.
Music’s pumping, the DJ’s on, people are playing pool in the back corner.
Yeah, we’ll definitely do a bit of bar service.
So you’re telling me I can drink rotovap cocktails and play some pool?
Do you have an idea of what the price point might be yet?
Not particularly. We definitely want to be accessible. But there’s a cost to everything at the moment in Sydney.
And what does the bars set up look like?
So it’s just one bar, it’s a central sort of U shape. As you walk down the stairs into the basement through the door, that should be the first thing you hit — the nice friendly face of your bartender.
We’re set up with about four stations on it, so we should be able to pump it out pretty well, especially considering that service shift later in the night.
Okay, well for anyone who’s interested in working there, how would you sell it to them? What kind of place are they gonna be working at?
It’s definitely gonna be a lot of fun. So if someone is into a bit of live entertainment, a bit of late night revelry, and then wants to make some serious drinks? It’s going to be a perfect spot.
Sam Bygrave: Hello Matt Whiley. Talk to me about your involvement in Pleasure Club?
I think my involvement in it signals the intention, that, we want to do things a little bit different to the way that we’ve done things in the past. We want to work on our — I hate to say it because it sounds wanky — drinks program in a way that is something that’s different to the norm, just pushing the boundaries a little bit.
Well, you’ve got a style and an approach, right?
Yeah and also, with my consultancy work, the approach is also maybe not as sustainable-focused in terms of the way I like to operate my bars, but it’s also what I bring in terms of the preparation to ingredients and the lab techniques and stuff like that.
What’s exciting you about this launching drinks list?
One of the things that I think is going to be so good about this list and so unique about this list is that Australiana is a sort of style of cocktails, in terms of ingredients, where they’re sourced from, native or if they’re from a specific state.
Whereas this is showcasing Australiana on a totally different format and lifestyle. We’re gonna showcase Australia, but through the lens of what Australia was like growing up for people.
Right, which isn’t all Davidson plums.
No, there’s not a Davidson plum on the menu. It’s looking at the things like, how did you grow up? What did you eat? What did you see when you were going to the beach? Or what were the holidays that you imagined when you were growing up? Those memories of you going to the beach having an ice cream? They’re all these memories of what Australia is to people, and we’re gonna bring them to life in drinks. And to be honest, I don’t have any nostalgia to Australia, so for me, it’s like taking everyone’s stories of nostalgia and then trying to bring them to life, which is like pretty exciting for me because I’m getting to see Australia from a different lens.
What draws you to working with these folks at Odd Culture Group? What is it about the way they operate that you like?
They’re very specific in their direction. If you’ve been into an Odd Culture venue, you know that it’s an Odd Culture venue and they do things a little bit differently. But they also add to what is already a good Sydney nightlife. And that’s why I was drawn to this project. It’s unique in the fact that they’ve got one of the latest licences for Newtown, but they also don’t just want to go, it’s a late night venue. [Instead] they’re going to go, how do we make this late night venue the best it can be? And that’s with live acts, live music, DJs, really good cocktail lists. And to be able to deliver something that is going to bring something unique and special to Newtown and Sydney as a whole, I think these guys are really good at delivering it.
Sometimes with a late night venue, it can a difficult thing operating from the afternoon all the way through to the early hours. Som bars struggle with how they tailor that offering throughout the stages of the night. It’s probably a difficult thing to do, right?
You get a totally different experience if you go at 8pm or if you go at three in the morning. But that’s also indicative of the time you’ve gone out. If you’re out at three in the morning, you’ve probably had a few drinks, so you’re looking for something a little bit different than if you go at 8pm. Whether you’re starting you’re night or finishing your night, you’re obviously after a different thing, but so is everyone else in the room, so the energy is going to be dictated based around the time of day. And then it’s our role to facilitate someone having an even better night than they anticipated by giving them great cocktails, really good live acts and live music or whatever that is on for that evening.
[The drinks are] going to be more fun and tongue-in-cheek than you would expect my drinks to have been historically in Australia. Things that I’ve done more in London with Peg & Patriot and the previous bars that I’ve owned, but there’s definitely a lot more of a tongue-in-cheek, fun element to what this menu will be.
What is it you like about working with Sam Kirk? What makes him good at what he does?
Ever since Sam came into working with us, he’s just been a person who is super calm under pressure, but also incredibly demanding of himself to be the best he can be. And what I like about him is he’s never stood still in terms of his progression. He’s always looked to progress everything he’s done. And that’s got him to the point now where he’s owned venues in Canada and he’s back home in Sydney and he’s leading what’s going to be this new big opening for Sydney. And I’m excited for people to see his style of hospitality as well.