Employees Only brings a slice of the big apple and one of the world’s best bar concepts to Sydney.
When one of the world’s best bars gets set to open a Sydney rendition, it is bound to spark some interest. Employees Only, an alluring speakeasy cocktail joint, first opened in New York in 2004. Since then, it has repeatedly made it onto The World’s 50 Best Bars list. And in 2018 Sydneysiders received the first Australian outpost of Employees Only.
Situated in a subterranean space on Barrack Street, this hidden speakeasy bar finds its home in the heart of the CBD’s financial district. We stopped by to experience Employees Only’s new menu on a balmy Friday night in December, joining crowds of revelers pouring into the basement of this late night establishment.
After a quick stroll down the staircase, we emerged into a bustling full-house filled with diners and drinkers. The space moves seamlessly from bar to dining room, with a long brass-topped bar flanking the left-hand side of the room, attracting crowds of cocktail lovers eager for a well-made drink. We were quickly seated in the front corner of the room, perched with prime views of the lively dining room on a busy Friday night.
To kick off the evening, we began with a round of cocktails to taste the bartender’s expertise at work. We started with the ‘Amelia’, an easy-drinking mix of Wyborowa Vodka and St. Germain Elderflower liqueur shaken with fresh lemon and puréed blackberries, followed by a classic Margarita ($23) featuring Tromba Blanco Tequila shaken with Fresh Citrus, Cointreau, Agave and Orange Blossom, served over ice. Both were beautifully balanced and served with style, the perfect way to kick off our dining experience.
We began with a selection of share plates from Employees Only’s new menu to snack our way through the start of the evening. We couldn’t resist sharing a half dozen of freshly shucked Sydney Rock Oysters ($28) alongside a serve of chargrilled house garlic flatbreads with smoked eggplant puree and hummus dip ($17). To top it off, we added a serve of pea, mint and chickpea falafels with roast garlic labneh and dukkha ($22). The oysters are a must-try, delivering a refreshing vibrant taste of the sea while the bread and dips would be best shared among a larger group of 4+.
As the night continued, we ordered our second round of drinks and picked our main dishes. From the Large Plates menu, we chose a bowl of Ricotta Gnocchi with new season vegetables, pistachio pesto and pangratto ($29) as well as a serve of Grilled Swordfish with confit tomato, olives, beans, potatoes, spinach and salsa verde ($33). The swordfish was by far the stand-out of the night, a perfectly-seared succulent dish that was exquisitely balanced with the accompanying sides.
As our dining experience came to an end, the venue came alive with the first burlesque performance of the evening. As the lights dimmed, dancer Porcelain Alice took to the stage for an impressive performance to impress the crowds of diners. In fact, you’ll find dancers atop the venue’s bar almost every night of the week at Employees Only.
If you’re looking for a spot to kick off a big night out in style, Employees Only is one of the best CBD watering holes to choose. But be warned, this venue isn’t for the faint-hearted. Expect a heaving bar and a rowdy crowd of punters during the weekend, particularly during the busy festive season. But, for those who are keen to share some top-notch eats alongside a few rounds of cocktails, you won’t be disappointed by the upscale offering at Employees Only.