PS40's Michael Chiem shares his CBD hotspots

Award-winning bartender Michael Chiem shares the goods on the Central Business District
 (Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan)
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Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
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Photograph: Anna Kucera
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Michael, why did you choose to open your bar PS40 in the CBD?
At PS40 we’ve just recently launched a bottled range of sodas that focus on using fresh ingredients, native ingredients and no preservatives. Thor Bergquist, my business partner, and I chose the site as we wanted someone who might be in town for a couple of days to be able to pop on in and check us out. In short, we wanted PS Soda to be accessible.

What do you like best about the area?
The CBD is surrounded by water, it’s busy but relaxed at the same time, and I think that's a unique quality. I love having a picnic at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, eating in Chinatown and doing a bar crawl from Town Hall to Circular Quay. The MCA hosts a bunch of great artists and having a beer at an old pub in the Rocks always goes down well. There are so many world-class bars in the area we’ve developed great relationships with each other, whether it’s borrowing ice, citrus or recommending guests to visit our friendly neighbouring bars.

Can you share a few of your favourite CBD haunts?
I go to the Cross Eatery just around the corner from PS40. The food there is simple and delicious, everything is always fresh and they use plenty of in-house ferments and pickles. Straight up coffee, I'll head to Skittle Lane and Single O. I'm normally a flat white and espresso man if I sit in. The kombucha at Cross Eatery is my alternative, it has a good balance of acid and sweetness. For shopping, I’m a big fan of Incu if the bank account agrees with me and ACNE, which opened up recently. Muji is fun to walk through, too.

And after dark?
There are so many great bars within short distances to each other. You'll probably find me at Baxter Inn, Duke of Clarence, Lobo Plantation, Papa Gede's, Grandma's or Stitch. If I'm on a night off I'll try to venture to Bulletin Place or Burrow Bar. The Royal George is my favourite pub in town. I might be a bit biased as I've been going there since my university days. I take a quick walk across the Pyrmont Bridge for my favourite sushi joint – Sokyo. Mr Wong and Golden Century are a must for Chinese. Rockpool Bar and Grill has the most beautiful dining room I've ever seen and everything they serve is top notch. Suminoya is a little hidden gem I love introducing mates to. Go with an empty stomach!

Have you noticed the CBD bar culture change in recent years?
We took two steps forward with the introduction of the small bar license several years ago, but then a step back with the lockout laws and license restrictions. Now that licensing is starting to lighten up I’m seeing positive results for new bar owners/prospective business owners.

What would you change about it?
I’d relax some of the restrictions associated with opening a restaurant and a bar. We should encourage the community to drink responsibly and enjoy what they eat and drink instead of taking it away. I've been overseas to check out highly renowned bars and restaurants. Sydney’s are definitely up there with the best in the world, and that's something I think we should be really proud of. Recently at PS40 we applied for an amendment to our DA to match the recently relaxed trading hours OLGR had provided small bars. The two separate bodies you encounter when opening a bar (council and OLGR), can be quite confusing at first and appear to double handle a lot of items, both costing time and money. We now trade to 2am on Friday, Saturdays and it's had such a positive impact to the business. Word is slowly getting around that we are open and patrons whom come in after 10pm don't feel rushed to have a drink and then go find somewhere that is open. Hospitality who finish up around 11pm-1am are able to come in and enjoy a drink too which is great! Imagine if we told 9-to-5ers they couldn't drink after 6pm... oh wait!

Michael Chiem's CBD hotspots

Restaurants

The Cross Eatery

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The Cross Eatery has set up in the cavernous foyer of the new development at 155 Clarence Street (up the Officeworks end) and they are bringing brunch vibes to your midday meal. Imagine Kitchen by Mike with a corporate edge.

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Baristas at Skittle Lane
Photograph: Anna Kucera
Restaurants, Caf├ęs

Skittle Lane

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The space is beautiful but Skittle Lane ain’t just about Instagram-worthy interiors – these guys are dishing out full-bodied brews. Two large steely silver La Marzocco coffee machines pump out espressi, which are the exact right way to kick start your morning: rich, gentle and very well made. 

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Single O Eatery Surry Hills
Photograph: Anna Kucera
Restaurants

Single O CBD

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Beloved Surry Hills institution Single O now has an outpost squarely in the middle of the business district, and it offers so much more than beans. It’s a simple fitout – essentially just a shopfront with a bench top and a few stools. But it’s slick, too, with artful, rusty metal features and portholes revealing a selection of coffee bags (which, by the way, you can purchase and take home). 

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Museums

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)

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Once the administration offices of the Maritime Services Board, this waterside museum was overhauled head to toe (well, almost) in 2011 and re-opened in March 2012. It's not just good looks, either: the rooftop café and sculpture terrace, high-tech education centre, and 120-seat lecture theatrette and forecourt are all worth checking out.

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Things to do

Mrs Macquaries Chair

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A city hideaway with perfect views and close proximity to the Domain and CBD. Beautiful and serene. The condition of Mrs Macquarie herself remains unknown. The chair remains tight lipped as to her whereabouts, being both stubborn and unhelpful.

Inside at Incu Store Sydney
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Shopping, Boutiques

Incu - City

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Incu’s two flagship CBD stores in the Galeries is the place to go for brands like APC, Acne, Rag & Bone, Frame Denim, Equipment, T by Alexander Wang, Karen Walker, Etre Cecil, Bassike and many more. Directly opposite, the Sydney City Men’s store now has APC, Acne, Kenzo, Kitsune, Comme des Garcons PLAY, Saturdays Surf NYC, T by Alexander Wang and Incu’s own label Weathered.

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Shopping

Muji

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Japanese retailer Muji are masters of a tidy space. Whether you’re looking for a place to stack runaway scissors or lock down loose hair ties, Muji has storage solutions for things you didn’t know you needed. 

Restaurants, Japanese

Suminoya

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At this inner CBD joint they’re dealing in yakiniku, a type of Japanese barbecue in which bite-sized, seasoned pieces of meat, seafood and vegetables are cooked on mesh griddles over an open flame. The format allows excess rendered fat to fall back onto the flames, rising to give an extra smoky flavour profile to meats. 

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Bars, Cocktail bars

The Baxter Inn

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This is the kind of whisky collection that would make a strong man weak at the knees. The menu board starts at the ceiling and the three-column list eventually sneaks down under the counter and out of sight. Every Islay, Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands and Campbelltown distillery you can’t pronounce – and the small collection you’re confident with – is there, including rare bottlings and unusual releases. 

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Bars, Pubs

The Duke of Clarence

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We've all heard the lowing from our UK expatriate friends about the state of Sydney’s pubs. They're never old enough, cosy enough, or British enough for their liking (the Lord Dudley and the Lord Nelson get close). So what's a former Liverpool boy to do? Open a venue, that’s what, which is why Mikey Enright, gin maestro and owner of the Barber Shop, has extended his booze empire about ten metres to the right with a proper British establishment named the Duke of Clarence.

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For more ideas see our CBD area guide

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