WINNER: Stuart Knox, Fix Wine Bar + Restaurant
A European-style wine bar serving mod-Oz bistro fare hardly sounds like a revolutionary concept now, but things were different when Fix St James unlocked the doors in November of 2006. “Back then, people just went to the pub when they finished work,” says owner Stuart Knox. “Sydney wasn’t ready for a wine bar.”
Ready or not, a wine bar is exactly what we got. Knox had spent the better part of a decade as a sommelier at one of Terence Conran’s London restaurants, Bibendum, and at Sydney’s lauded Level 41, and he was ready to break free from fine dining and go out on his own. “I knew from living in London and travelling through Italy and France that a casual wine bar was what I wanted to do,” Knox says, “and I always thought it would work in Sydney.”
So he took a chance on an unassuming site on Elizabeth Street in the CBD, with a $15,000 licence that allowed punters to drink without eating. Lunch trade roared, but convincing folks to stay after dark and lean into a left-field wine list more in line with today’s tastes took some effort. “I’d say to customers: ‘You just have to take that leap of faith. Just because you haven’t seen that label before doesn’t mean it’s not a good wine.’”
There are stools and high tables Knox built himself where there didn’t used to be, and ‘St James’ has been dropped from the name, but 13 years on, Fix remains endearingly unchanged: open for coffee at 8am and ready to welcome you all the way into the evening. What’s evolved is our collective palate, our eagerness to try new things and a desire for quality more than quantity.
These days, we can’t seem to get enough of atmospheric spaces spruiking share plates and catalogues of mindfully farmed, unfined, unfiltered and untamed drops from small producers the world over. But letting Knox guide you through the hundred-odd by-the-glass options on a balmy night, long after the happy-hour crowd and the relentless thunder of buses have subsided, is not only one of this city’s best-kept secrets, but also one of its greatest pleasures.
Being a legend takes more than just an idea that’s supernaturally ahead of its time. It requires trusting that instinct, taking a risk and throwing all your conviction behind it no matter how improbable it may seem. Stuart Knox did that with Fix, immeasurably shifting our appreciation for wine as a result. And luckily for us, he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“There’s always something to get out of bed for,” he says. “There’s always something we can do to make ourselves better.”