Earl's Juke Joint has been around since 2013 and remained a firm Newtown favourite since then. Owner and ex-Shady Pines head honcho Pasan Wijesana has pulled off the seemingly impossible — soul without kitsch — and given King Street a grown-up bar with a New Orleans edge.
On the spectrum of masculine broody, the Earl's decor comes in at about the 'thick with bourbon' mark — you could be forgiven for swearing there is a haze of cigarette smoke in the air. They have gone with a basic but effective design brief: dim yellow lighting, dark wood and corrugated iron, topped off by faces like Fats Waller and T-Bone Walker looking down at a comfortably eclectic crowd from the whitewash walls. The feature of the bar, is, well, the bar; a goliath amongst bar tops that coolly dominates the space and invites you to take a seat. If you're not so keen on bartender banter there are a few booths at the back of the room, and plenty of side-tables if you're after a touch of privacy.
Once you've secured a menu look over the house rules. Rule # 2: 'don't be creepy' is an inspired paraphrasing of Milk and Honey's often ignored gentleman's guide to introductions — as well as a built-in conversation point for those on dates. Move on down the menu to the cocktail list, which rotates through eight options every two months and uses native ingredients like saltbush and kaffir lime. For August, we're keen on the Diabolical Biz ($22), which is Beezwax cognac and rye with Peychauds bitters, honey, bee pollen and anise liqueur.
An example of simple cocktail making at its best is the Smooth Operator ($20) — gin, Suze bitters and dry vermouth with mandarin and lemon.If you like your drinks to be a little bit tropical, go for Derwin's Revenge ($20) which mixes coconut washed bourbon and amaro liqueur, Pedro Ximenez sherry and wattleseed.
Not of the Reschs persuasion? There is plenty else to love about Earl's extensive beer list, which has taken a turn toward mainly Australian and New Zealand craft. This list also changes regularly and currently includes Wildflower Gold Blend #14 on draught ($12) and Beer Farm Australian bitter in bottles ($10). Wines take a heavy natural and organic lean, with rare 'cult' drops from Frank Cornelissen and Radikon currently available by the glass, plus a pet nat from WA's Brave New Wine ($12/$56) and a rosé by Yarra Valley's Stuart Proud ($13/$60).
If the prices are looking a bit steep, head in for happy hour Monday through Friday from 4—6pm — you can nab extremely reasonably priced house beers for $3, house wine and spirits for $6 and a negroni or daiquiri for a tenner. And, when your stomach starts growling and the free bar snacks aren't cutting it, Earl's also offers up charcuterie platters thanks to neighbouring tapas bar Bloodwood.
The only disappointment here was that we didn't get to see Rule # 5: 'If Triumph by the Wu Tang Clan plays there will momentarily be no bar service. At least for the first verse anyway.