Bartending is in many ways the study of party alchemy – mixing drinks to lift you up, cool you out and caress your soul if it’s in need of a little TLC. A well-made Singapore Sling can send your tongue on an exotic getaway, even if the rest of you has to stay right here and pay the bills; a Daiquiri has the power to convince your hips you’ve got the rhythm in you; and an Old Pal can be your best friend after a long day in the salt mines. And there’s nowhere we prefer to pull up a stool and bend the elbow in the Inner West than at the long, sturdy, timber bar at Earl’s Juke Joint.
Before your dreams of playlist domination get out of hand, we should tell you there are no jukeboxes here. But you don’t need one when owner Pasan Wijesena has programmed a specialty mix of ’90s hip hop, swampy rock and blues for your listening pleasure.
The bar team here is one of the best. You’ve got veterans of the trade passing on their skills to a clutch of up-and-comers who’ve earned their stripes over long, hard shifts at one of Newtown’s favourite cocktail haunts. There is no rockstar shift – your drinks are in safe hands on a Tuesday or a Friday.
This is a bar you want to be a regular at – they even have merch so you can declare your allegiance to the world – but be warned if you’re hungry that nuts are all they’ve got. Given you won’t want to relinquish that big table up the back, or the coveted window seat, cocktails can often become dinner here. We’re OK with it. Our livers maybe not so much.
We want to give a gold star to the bar designer – someone put in a lot of time in booze dens before planning the layout, because it all works perfectly – there’s plenty of space for sitting and ordering along the long, dark bar and there’s space to move amongst the tables. We appreciate a little room to booze.
Somehow Earl’s manages to maintain that magic worn-in feel of a Louisiana soul saloon. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s inside a former butcher shop on South King, and they kept the lace curtains and metal grille on the door. Maybe it’s the faces of the famed jazz greats looking down on proceedings under the rusted corrugated iron ceiling. Or maybe it’s just that when you mix talented and friendly staff in a cool bar it creates something magical that you want to be a part of until last drinks are called. It gets us every time.