The Lansdowne Hotel
PRIME POSITION IN Sydney pub folklore couldn’t save rock’n’roll dive the Lansdowne Hotel from shuttering in 2015. But Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham (the duo behind Mary’s and the Unicorn) could, raising the dead just two years on and proving that some heroes swap capes for flanno. The result of their hard work is a study in beautiful decay – like an architectural Keith Richards – honouring the building’s old bones without veering into rosetinted nostalgia. The dead wood of shitty pub fare and the dreaded pokies have been picked clean for the choice bits, like the bar, which now fronts an open kitchen sending out classed-up junk food good enough to lure in punters on its own merits. Giant rugs and real candles give you that Seattlegrunge-in-the-’90s ambience, with a black-felt pool table for extra-strength late-night vibes and a tiny square of a disco-lit dance floor. The rock-chic lovefest continues in Jess Cochrane’s sexy Playboy mod-podge pop art murals outside, where indie kids are smoking ciggies like it’s still 2007. The first floor bandroom gives breath to Sydney’s oxygendeprived live-music scene – a few bucks and a wristband get you upstairs access to the velvet banquette-lined, 250-person venue that manages to feel intimate for a folky show but gives you room to cut loose when King Tide or You Am I are on stage.
VB and Melbourne Bitter for the old timers are tapped next to craft beers like Young Henrys and Grifter. Cocktail and wine lists are to the point – the former just seven classic drinks (Mai Tais and a Daiquiri with JD) and the latter a smashable shortlist of boutique, natural bottles from Ochota Barrels, Jauma and Good Intentions. Here, pub wine is good wine. Forty-eight-hour-fermented dough creates the golden, crispedged crust on the Detroit-style pan pizzas they’re serving – add LP’s Quality Meats pepperoni to your Motor City pie and you’ll never go Napoli again. Kimchi beef rib pancakes melt in your mouth and leave you with a lingering chilli burn; and the burgers are the greasy, cheesy fix you’d expect from the Mary’s crew, though our baskets came vexingly liner free with kamikaze chips fleeing through the holes. A fish finger sambo on a soft sesame seed bun is stuffed with a quality bit of fried white fish, melty cheese, tartare sauce and added iceberg for crunch, vying with Bar Ume’s fish katsu burger for the Filet-O-Fish fanatic’s new love. Before you start clutching your heart, there are good green things on the menu, but if your student budget doesn’t stretch to the fancier fare, it’s just a tenner for a gourmet counter meal, so you can dine like a king on a perfectly medium, grass-fed chuck steak smothered in Café de Paris butter padded out with a generous hillock of fries.
On a Saturday night punters pack out the place like a watering hole during dry season, everyone rubbing along to Soundgarden bellowing through the speakers. So save the funeral song for someone else, because the Lansdowne has risen again, like a rock ’n’ roll phoenix, and it’s a glorious sight to behold.