The Hook

This retro oyster and piano bar with a classic cocktail list and an affordable bar menu is a quality night out, whatever your budget.
Maxim Boon
Published on June 12, 2024


There are just two certainties in life, so the saying goes. However, David Spanton — Kings Cross hospo maven and owner of The Hook — would argue that there are actually three: death, taxes … and oysters. It's a shrewd observation. Found in shallow seas all over the world, the ubiquity of bivalves once made them a dietary staple for countless cultures, from the Romans and native Americans to Australia's First Nations. But it's not just the deep past that has inspired Spanton's love of the oyster — more recent history has been an equally potent muse.

Kings Cross was once famed for the calibre of its oyster bars. Notably, The Bayswater Brasserie shucked endless supplies of the briny morsels for Sydney's glitterati between the early 80s and its closure in 2010. "It was the hottest cocktail bar and restaurant in Australia, with a dedicated oyster bar right in the middle of the dining room,'' Spanton says, gesturing through The Hook's front window towards The Bayz's former address, 50 metres down the street. "That's why I knew I had to open an oyster bar here."

The Hook — a delightfully kitsch, nautically themed oyster and piano bar in the former digs of the Izgara Turkish grill — is at once an homage to Bayswater Road's former glory, a love letter to the eternal oyster and a trip down Spanton's personal memory lane. His decades of travel across the United States, including to San Francisco's Swan Oyster Depot ("the greatest seafood diner in the world," according to Spanton) and the oyster restaurants of New Orleans and Boston, have been distilled into The Hook's quirky personality and yesteryear menu.

To realise the venue's singular style, Spanton once again tapped Michael Delany, the artist and designer who oversaw Spanton's restoration of Kings Cross stalwart Piccolo Bar in 2021 and his refit of Cafe Hernandez, rebooted as Vermuteria in 2023. Much like those two venues, there's a whimsy to The Hook that somehow magically summons a sense of nostalgia for an era you've never lived in. Almost cartoonish with its tropes, there are maritime winks aplenty, such as the oyster shell-clad bar, the mooring ropes and sailor trinkets hung from the walls, and a shucking station styled to look like the bow of a fishing trawler. If a salty sea dog with a peg leg and a sou'wester were to walk through the door, he wouldn't look out of place.

Far from feeling gimmicky, however, this immersive decor provides the ideal stage for Spanton's retro high-low dining and beverage concept. Of course, oysters are the star attraction — the variety depends on the best available at the fish market week to week. Heavy rain on the New South Wales coast might take Merimbula's Sydney rocks off the menu but Pacifics from South Australia will still do nicely.

Shucked to order, you can enjoy them fresh on the half shell, served with a classic shallot vinaigrette or with a few drops of ten-year-old Laphroaig single malt, supplied via a handy pipette. The French 75 — a sprightly mix of champagne, gin, lemon juice and sugar — makes for the perfect chaser, as the sharp-edged sweetness of the cocktail teases the tip of the tongue before the earthy smoke and salt of the whisky-spiked oyster blooms at the hilt of the throat. Or you can slurp your shuck like they do in the Big Easy: with a slug of house-made sazerac, aged in a port barrel for a pleasantly fruity finish.

Purists may wince, but the grilled oysters are just as moreish. There are four different spins to sample: kilpatrick, with crispy hunks of bacon and a punch of tabasco; mornay, with a bubbly topping of cheese sourced from Potts Point's legendary Penny's Cheese Shop; French Quarter, Spanton's take on escargot, served in a slick of garlic butter; and Rockefeller, with a toasted hat of breadcrumbs and an aniseed lick of Pernod liqueur.

In these times of tightened belts and soaring living costs, oysters and cocktails may not seem like a fiscally responsible dinner choice. However, while The Hook's vibe may hail from another time, its menu has today's economics in mind. Humble bar snacks and cheap eats for $30 or less share the spotlight with their luxury counterparts, including an excellent smashed cheeseburger, a classic Frankfurt dive dog by Marrickville's LP's Quality Meats and even a Golden Gaytime, just like the ones from the servo freezer. Plus, the jazz piano music that drifts through the room from the baby grand at the front of the bar comes at no extra charge. Spanton has already proved himself a serial saviour, after rescuing two Kings Cross icons — Piccolo Bar and Cafe Hernandez, aka Vermuteria — from closure. Now, he's also out to save your wallet.

Images: Christopher Pearce.


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