Let's admit it: Newtown's new bar explosion is starting to look like the Washington State Fair, but Earl's Juke Joint has more to offer than just another 4th of July party. Owner, and ex-Shady Pines head honcho, Pasan Wijesana has pulled off the seemingly impossible — soul without kitsch, and given King Street a bar for grown-ups with a New Orleans edge.
On the spectrum of masculine broody, the Earl's decor comes in at about the 'thick with bourbon' mark, i.e. 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 and a built-in conversation point for daters. Fingers crossed they don't break it. Cocktail wise, it's an under-stated, eight-long list of simple signatures broken up by a few classics like the double-citrus mistress — the Ramos Gin Fizz ($17).
An example of simple cocktail making at its best, the Phife Dawg ($10), is a built highball (that's the tall glass) of rum, lime, bitters and sugar garnished with a bamboo slice — tasty, boozy and they can get it out to you in under 40 seconds. Although the bamboo did get an eyebrow raise. If you like your drinks refreshing and spicy, direct your attention to their rum-based Cantina Band ($17); it's basically a Dark and Stormy tszujed up with some Fernet Branca and cucumber. Speaking of Fernet Branca you might notice they've given it shared keg-line honours with ol' mate Reschs. Yeah, that's free-flowing, tap line cold Fernet Branca.
Not of the Reschs persuasion? There is plenty else to love about Earl's beer list; a global adventure from Moocabin to Milwaukee that doesn't shy away from the heavier stuff with three stouts and a porter on offer. Let's ease into it with some lighter options, if you can look past the Brooklyn lager tinnie ($4), an $8 bottle of caramelised pineapple smacked Golden Ale from Parramatta's Riverside Brewery 33 ticks a lot of boxes and evaporates effortlessly. Or, if you are in the grunt market, try out the Lake Front Brewing Fixed Gear Red Ale, a 6.5%, hopped exercise in delish ($9), and finish with the smooth Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout ($12). On the wine-front it's a similar story; an internationally balanced, well-priced selection and they have a cheeky Chateauneuf de pape by the bottle ($70). Tick. Tick Tick.
When your stomach starts growling it's time to move on, unless the delicious and repeatedly proffered Bombay spice mix satisfies you. Yeah, your bar crew is the usual mix of moustache and whisky-shots that you'd expect from the Swillhouse Group, but that doesn't stop Earl's reaching Midnight Special heights on the 'reasons to go to Newtown' list. 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.'