With the right little bar in your neighbourhood, ‘me time’ can also be ‘wine time’, which is certainly the case for the three separate people having a quiet drink on their own at She Loves You, a 40-person bar in Newtown. And looking at the room, the only way 40 people are getting in here is if they’re all hugging at the same time.
The building at 530 King Street has been a bar under a few banners in recent memory: first as the Moose, then Doris and Beryl’s. They were on the right track, but its current format suits best. You’ve got bawdy cocktail times available over the street at Earl’s Juke Joint and destination bar dining a few doors down at Bloodwood. She Loves You walks a different path again.
“Know your audience” was advice that co-owners Sophie Otton, Stephen Smooker and Martin Corcoran took seriously. Instead of revamping the bar immediately upon taking possession of the keys, they ran it under its former guise for six months to get to know their regulars. Gentle changes then followed, like a lot of vintage glass in the shadow box, and a wine list that makes a lot more sense when you find out that Otton is also the sommelier at Billy Kwong.
Otton wanted to move away from the rigidity of restaurant lists, so this is a good venue if you want to really discuss your choices before they open a bottle. But if you have a strict budget, there are a handful of delicious, friendly wines on the glass list.
It’s certainly a system that is working for those aforementioned lone drinkers, who appear supremely happy. This bar isn’t big enough to suddenly fill up around you, destroying the idyll you’ve built alongside a glass of the light and savoury Unico Zelo ‘River’ and some ’40s big band on the stereo. Happily, the compact booths (two people have to sit very close on each side to fit) are also not so spacious that you look like a table hog during a moment of contemplation with a softly tropical Plum Tropical cocktail, made with pineapple juice, Davidson plum and vodka.
In fact, if your only companion for the night is the straight-shooting Frankly This Wine Was Made by Bob malbec, a dashingly dark rose from Orange, or the Sicilian Ciello Bianco with a silky honeydew character that says ‘drink hither’, you’re doing it right.
This is a bar, plain and simple. It is vintage styled and demands vintage manners. You’re not here to eat, but there is cheese and bread if you must, or you can BYO snacks in from any of the King Street operators. You’re here to be out, but not the kind of out that requires party jeans or a going-out top. This is a drop-in-on-your-way-home kind of place, or meet an old friend for a very lengthy catch-up. It’s an unhurried one-man-or-woman show behind the bar, but your drinks will be made well.
This is the kind of bar that can exist eight years after small bar licenses became available. Our city’s drinking culture has grown up a lot in that time, and we’re now able to adjust our gear from frantic after-work imbibing to a gentle tipple at a neighbourhood pocket.