The streets of Sydney’s CBD are eerily quiet. In pandemic times, the once-bustling city is soon deserted by 7:30 pm on a Wednesday evening, with the only sign of life found within the dimly-lit restaurants and bars that line the borders of Martin Place. Employees Only, an underground speakeasy can be found further up the street, only recognisable by a security guard stepping out momentarily to view the surrounding area and a neon sign that reads ‘Psychic’, above. The elusive quality of the bar is by no accident and provides a warm and quiet alcove to the above world, the Prohibition style a fitting aesthetic for the roaring 2020’s.
After climbing a set of stairs to the basement level, indeed, a psychic can be found to your left mysteriously wrapped behind a set of curtains. For the early arrival, a Tarot reading is the perfect introduction to a relaxed evening of dining or alternatively, can be revisited during the night. After pulling back a second set of velvet curtains, you are greeted by an Employees Only waiter and taken promptly to your seat.
The interiors are what you would expect from a New York-inspired speakeasy, combined with the heritage of Sydney’s historic structures. Centred around the hero feature, the gold bar, emerald velvet booths line the perimeter of the space while leather upholstered seats are dotted around the middle tables. When Employees Only first opened in the West Village of New York, it was originally an underground, hospo-only hangout for hardworking bartenders to rest and socialise, and share tips, tricks and sacred sips, at the end of the night. It later opened to the public, and became an essential part of the craft cocktail revolution. Fourteen years later, Employees Only is considered one of the world’s best cocktail bars Singapore, Miami, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Sydney – and it is easy to see why.
In addition to crowd-favourite cocktails you would normally find from any given bar, Employees Only is home to a plethora of innovative and genre-bending cocktails. The classic sour is updated with roasted Japanese tea; the Espresso Martini refreshed with coconut foam; and your usual vodka pairing reinvented with elderflower liqueur and pureed blackberries.
Accompanying the world-class cocktails is a refreshed winter menu, the brain child of head chef Thomas Stott. Previously being awarded 1 chef’s hat for his work at Jellyfish Restaurant, having trained at est. under acclaimed chef Peter Doyle, the fresh addition to the Employees Only team has put food at the forefront. Taking a starring role in Stott’s new winter menu is an impressive NY strip steak MBS3+ (250g), dressed with 24ct gold flake, red wine jus and served with truffle Paris mash – I can attest it is a meal that may change your steak eating-life. Further main drawcards include a butterflied BBQ spatchcock, a heartier meal for those looking to go large, and a Japanese-inspired Saffron risotto with enoki and shimeji.
On Fridays and Saturdays, diners will be delighted by a new ‘dinner and a show’ format with first-rate burlesque performers. DJs will be spinning jazzy selects on both nights while a live music program for the non-weekend nights also introduced in the weeks to come.
Despite the Prohibition vibe to Employees Only, visitors can be assured of COVID-safe practices with check-in, temperature checks, hand sanitising, and thorough cleaning throughout the restaurant. For more information and to book your table now, visit the website here.