Mary’s in Newtown has had many former lives – it’s been a Greek sporting club, a women’s sanctuary, a Masonic hall and an STD clinic. Now, it’s one of the best new bars in Sydney.
The creative DNA of Mary’s is impressive: it’s run by Jake Smyth of Bodega and Kenny Graham of Porteno. The menu is by Luke Powell (one-time head chef of Tetsuya’s). Odds would be ridiculously high that, all combined, they’d ace this set-up.
Will and I have been ultra-excited about the emergence of Mary’s ever since reading in Time Out Sydney last year that it would be opening. Over the last few months, we’ve been guilty of walking past every week, scouting for hopeful signs that Mary’s would soon blare into life. In February, I saw staff members painting chairs outside and was rather psyched when they said they thought they might be done and ready to trade in two to three weeks. Of course, these things often take longer than scheduled, and Mary’s hadn’t yet kicked in by then. But last weekend, when we chanced past and asked if they would be up and running soon, we heard the words we’d been angling for. Mary’s would open this week.
The approach path to being finished may have taken longer to conquer than expected, but the wait has been utterly worth it. Mary’s is brilliant on every level: the staff members are friendly, genuine and onto it (especially Jake Smyth); the drinks are good fun, with a short but deliciously sweet selection of cocktails (the grapefruit froth of the Pop Rock Fizz is a cheeringly great try), booze from local brewery Young Henry’s and an accessible wine list; and the space retains some charm and curiosity of Mary’s former incarnations (you can spot where the pool tables used to stand on the floor) while sneaking in some clever updates – from the funhouse-trippiness of a wood-and-mirror installation that smartly disguises an air-conditioning unit to the cheeky ‘Slayer’ references that can be found throughout (it’s like playing a hair-metal version of Where’s Wally?). The fit-out isn’t about big-budget slickness but inventive touches like the lights made of repurposed bottles or the mini Jack Daniels containers that now house salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce.
Adding to the atmosphere is the excellent music, which features Nick Drake and Andrew Bird in quieter moments, while slipping in some Deerhunter, The Cure, DJ Shadow and Bat For Lashes at other points. You either spend your time going “it’s this song!” in hi-rotation moments of joyful track recognition, to giving Shazam an intense workout in order to detect what the other great, unfamiliar songs are.
And Luke Powell’s menu is short, unfussy and excellent. The burgers name-check certain fast food references (with the presence of “special sauce”, a “fries with that” option, and a jokey use of branded packaging; my “‘Shroom Burger” came wrapped with stamped paper that resembled a certain company’s golden arches). However, these aren’t just souped-up versions of what you can get through a drive-through window or 24-hour outlet. They’re flat-out great burgers in their own right. The ‘Shroom Burger ($12) is jammed with a garlicky, well-grilled field mushroom and that tart, pickly sweet sauce that earns its “special” tag.
And the Mary’s Burger ($12) is so damn good that Will crowns it as the best he’s had in Sydney. In case you think it’s hyperbole, Darren Robertson (of Three Blue Ducks; also Luke Powell’s predecessor at Tetsuya’s) has been making the same call; and in fact, between everyone I know that’s been to Mary’s in the four days it’s been open (it’s surprisingly a lot!) – we’ve all been buzzing about how awesome the menu is. It’s an echo chamber of burger-struck diners. You can also “double down” your order ($3) or even add Trashcan Bacon ($4) (according to Two Thousand, the name is a literal reference to how Powell smokes the strips).
Don’t forget the carb-heavy sides, like the buttery mash slathered with gravy or the win-win situation of ordering either shoestring fries or hand-cut chips, ready to be aimed and fired with a tomato sauce squirt-bottle. And if you can swear off the burger-ordering bandwagon (tricky), you can also order Fried Chicken in Half Bird ($14), Whole Bird ($24) and Larry Bird ($40) portions.
I sort of wonder whether it’s redundant to write about Mary’s, because everyone already seems to know about it. I went, for the first time, on its second day. By the third night, it was so packed, Will couldn’t get in for dinner. But, I think that sort of high-charged interest doesn’t count as a solid reason to ignore this place. Because a) Mary’s is excellent and worth seeking out and b) you can always hit it up at a less intense time. Like weekend lunch, which is what we did today.
Mary’s is a highly welcome addition to Newtown, which has notched up some excellent new joints in the last year or so (Hartsyard, The Midnight Special, MakMak Macarons) and looks like it’s going to land a few more soon – with Earl’s Juke Joint and Newtown Social Club still under construction and nearby Shenkin Kitchen about to open its doors. I like the idea that Mary’s has had such a vibrant, multiple personality past, but I hope it sticks around in its current formation for a good while. Here’s to Mary’s and her scoring a long, prosperous life in this Newtown laneway. I feel like I’ll be paying her many, many visits.
Mary’s, 6 Mary Street, Newtown NSW. Follow Mary’s on Instagram