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First Look: Barlow Is the Luxe Speakeasy Tucked Within the New-Look Continental Sorrento

Sorrento's chic new resident is serving clever cocktails, late-night snacks by Scott Pickett, and a sumptuous live entertainment program that trips from comedy to jazz.
By Libby Curran
March 30, 2022
By Libby Curran
March 30, 2022

Like its namesake, Sorrento's new speakeasy and entertainment venue Barlow is a character of many faces. Part of the newly revamped Hotel Continental, the bar pulls inspiration from the grand sandstone building's original founder, George Coppin.

Coppin also started a local theatre company, acting in many of its productions under the stage name of Billy Barlow. "The name 'Barlow', represents it as a space where you can be whoever you want to be," Co-owner Craig Shearer tells Concrete Playground. 

Tucked away on the ground floor of the new-look precinct, this luxurious hideaway opens its doors this Friday, April 1, with an offering that's diverse and multifaceted.

"We didn't want it to just be a nightclub or just a cocktail bar or just a live music venue — we wanted it to be all of those things," Shearer says. "We've been careful not to have it typecast for any one particular use."

As with the rest of its sibling venues making up this new incarnation of the Continental, Barlow is a collaborative affair. It leans on Shearer's (The Terminus Fitzroy North, Brisbane's The Plough) own extensive experience in the pub game, while also being steered by offerings from chef Scott Pickett (​​Estelle, Matilda) and the drink masters of the Speakeasy Group (Eau de Vie, Nick & Nora's, Mjolner).

Gareth Sobey

Moody and luxurious interiors come courtesy of Woods Bagot, lending an old-world feel to the 140-seat space. "It hails back to the Prohibition days of a typical speakeasy," Shearer explains of the intimate table lighting, plush burgundy banquette seats and emerald-hued walls. "And the real hero of the space is the backlit back bar with, I think, in excess of 500 products on that wall — it's beautiful."

Helmed by the Speakeasy Group, that impressive booze offering translates to a cocktail aficionado's dream menu, filled with beautifully-executed classics and standout signatures.

Seasonal sips might include the likes of the Mornington Margarita made with a salt and pepper pineapple syrup, an Absinthe Colada, and the Something for Rosie — an elegant fusion of Hendricks and raspberry- and rose-smoked earl grey tea.

The precinct's Head Sommelier Andrew Murch is backing it up with a global list of vino, offering plenty of options by the glass and including a crop of half bottles to match music- or comedy-filled evenings by the stage.

On that note, Barlow's broad-ranging, ever-evolving live entertainment program is out to wow locals and visitors alike, with help from a custom state-of-the-art sound system. A slew of comedy shows is already in the works for the Easter holidays, though you'll be able to dip into everything from live rock gigs, to jazz, to DJ sets, up to five nights a week throughout the year.

Kristoffer Paulsen

As for the food, expect a selection of snacks, share plates and dedicated late-night eats, all infused with Pickett's signature flair. Ortiz anchovies ride atop house-made tomato toasts with capers and egg yolk; spring rolls are stuffed with spanner crab and king prawn, then finished with a peanut lime nam jim; and grilled barbecue chicken drumettes are paired with an Alabama-style white sauce.

Meanwhile, night owls can keep the groove going until 2am with fried chicken — here, matched with caviar and creme fraiche — and hefty New York-style pizzas by the slice. Former Sorrento partiers of a certain age can enjoy a bit of nostalgia, too. "Keeping with part of the heritage of the old Conti days, you can even grab a hot dog on the way out," confirms Shearer, calling the move "a bit of a nod to the venue's history."

"I'm excited to see people of all different ages and demographics use the space and love it like we do," says the publican. "I think Victorians, more so than almost anyone in the world, are ready for a party. And Barlow will certainly deliver that."

Find Barlow within The Continental Sorrento, at 1-21 Ocean Beach Road, Sorrento, from Friday, April 1. It'll open 8pm–3am Fridays and Saturdays, amping up to more nights a week over peak periods.

Images: Interiors by Gareth Sobey; Food by Kristoffer Paulsen

Published on March 30, 2022 by Libby Curran
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