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Sydney's Best Retro Spots for When You're Feeling Nostalgic

The question isn't just where to go, it's which era to spend time in.
By Yelena Bidé
October 04, 2017

Sydney's Best Retro Spots for When You're Feeling Nostalgic

The question isn't just where to go, it's which era to spend time in.
By Yelena Bidé
October 04, 2017


in partnership with

The question isn't just where to go, it's which era to spend time in.

Life in the 21st century has a hell of a lot going for it, and our daily existence has never been more convenient. It's also never been more stressful. Between overbooked schedules, constant social media updates, and lengthy commutes on public transport, sometimes you just need a bit of a break from it all. Luckily, booking a holiday to a deserted island isn't the only way to hit the refresh button.

For a substantially cheaper and more accessible escape, make your way to one of Sydney's retro eateries for a few hours of grown-up make-believe. Whether you want to feel like you're hobnobbing with the Mad Men set, sipping on cocktails in postwar Paris, or dining in 1930s Shanghai, we've got the place for you. In collaboration with American Express, we've hunted down the best spots to go when nostalgia for a bygone era hits hard. They all accept Amex, too, so you can stock up on points. A few hours in one of these places and you'll be ready to brave the modern world again in no time.

Got yourself in another dining situation and need some guidance? Whatever it is, we know a place. Visit The Shortlist and we'll sort you out.

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    Does anywhere in Sydney do speakeasy chic quite as well as The Baxter Inn? If so, we have yet to find it. Buried in the depths of an inner-city building, this tricky-to-find establishment is all exposed brick walls, plush carpet, and low ceilings. The walls are plastered with historical prints, the soundtrack is moody blues at its best, and the bartenders are hella dapper. The entire effect is Prohibition era at its most glamorous.

    You’re here for the whisky and with over 360 drams to try, you could come almost every single night for a year and never drink the same whisky twice. Ask the perfectly-coiffed bartenders for help navigating the mind-boggling selection and watch them locate your choice by scaling the sliding library ladders that line the backlit whisky wall.

    Image: Letícia Almeida.

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    Before it got a major facelift in the ’90s, New York City was best known for its gritty side. While the edgier bits of the Big Apple have long since disappeared, the original NYC lives on in gloriously raucous form at Frankie’s Pizza. Find the neon sign outside, make your way down the stairs, and you’ll find yourself in an old-school pizza parlour, complete with checkered tablecloths, vintage photos on the walls, and candlesticks stuffed into old wine bottles.

    Order a slice or two of the cheesy pepperoni pie before swinging through the saloon doors into the delightfully dingy bar behind. This is the kind of place where the light comes from the pinball machines, drinks are served in plastic cups, and gig bills cover a substantial portion of the wall space. If you’re in the mood for cocktails, this ain’t the place for you, but if it’s beer, pizza, and old NYC vibes you’re after, you’re in for a hell of a good night.

    Image: Katje Ford.

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    Mr. Wong

    Wend your way down Bridge Lane, step through an impressive set of doors, and you’ll find yourself in the glamorous Shanghai of the 1930s. The huge space is all exposed brick, polished timber floors, beautiful colonial furniture, and lazily-spinning ceiling fans — the perfect setting for the extensive Cantonese-style menu.

    During the day, look no further than the massive dim sum selection but, at night, feast from the à la carte menu. With over 60 dishes on offer, picking just a few is a virtually impossible task, so come with a big group so that you can eat your way through a sizeable chunk of the menu. Whatever you do, don’t skip the Peking duck and the black pepper crab. After dinner, make your way upstairs to the gorgeous bar and linger over cocktails until the wee hours.

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    Named after a US fighter jet, this delightful venue from the Lobo Plantation team brings you straight to the heady days of France’s liberation. This is the place to go when you want to imbibe some serious old-world luxury vibes: the walls are covered in original wartime posters and memorabilia, there are plush carpets, and a good amount of hanging greenery.

    The ‘street food’ menu features delights like French onion soup sticks, confit duck leg Scotch eggs, and a steak Swiss sandwich — bar food at the very top of its game. But you’re really here for the rum and rye cocktails, so shimmy your way over to the bar, where you can pick a drink mixed from over 900 spirits. Once you’ve got your drink sorted, slip into one of the green leather booths along with the rest of the sharply-dressed post-work crowd. It’s time to party like it’s 1944.

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    Spice Temple

    Hidden behind a door-sized LED screen and down a set of stairs, this dramatic underground restaurant pays delicious homage to the delights of the chilli pepper. The dark, intimate atmosphere — plush red carpeting, comfy leather banquettes, and black-and-white photographs give it a bit of an old world Shanghai gentleman’s club vibe — is the perfect setting for Neil Perry’s modern spin on regional Chinese cuisine.

    From the “hot and numbing” crispy dry Wagyu to the high-end yum cha, this is most certainly not your run-of-the-mill Chinese joint. With over 50 dishes on offer, this is fusion Chinese without compromising on traditional flavours. Pick a bottle from the list of exactly 100 wines, and settle in for an evening of culinary delights.

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    Tucked into a basement in Sydney’s CBD, this gorgeous little speakeasy whisks you from the humdrum of daily life straight into the sumptuous glamour of the 1920s. Ushered in by waitstaff in flapper dresses, you’ll find yourself in a glowing cave of heavy timber, brick walls, sexy mood lighting, and live jazz.

    Forget about having to shove your way to the bar to order a drink, in this establishment it’s all about traditional table service. So sink into one of the cosy compartments, peruse the extensive cocktail list at your leisure (we’re especially hooked on the Charleston Swittzle and the Kentucky Switch). When hunger strikes, get your hands on some of the moreish mac’n’cheese, or one of the charcuterie platters.

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    From the moment you step through Hubert’s impressive wooden doors, you’ll be transported into a Narnia-style wonderland, going from dreary Bligh Street to the resplendent opulence of postwar France. The first eatery from the ridiculously-talented Swillhouse group (Shady Pines, Baxter Inn, and Frankie’s), Hubert oozes classic, sexy romance in spades.

    The ceilings are low, the furniture is dark, the seating is intimate, and candlelight casts an appealing soft glow across the room. The menu is just as good-looking as the fit-out, with classic French dishes (think duck parfait, pork terrine, and a confit duck leg cassoulet) and a hefty leather-bound wine list. Such a beautifully-executed concept deserves you showing up looking just as good, so air out that dinner jacket, give the old monocle a Windex, and/or slip on your sexiest black dress. A few hours here, and you’ll soon forget that it’s 2017.

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    This historic pub is one of our absolute favourite places in the city to sink a couple of beers at the weekend. In operation since 1841, a few hours spent here is the boozy equivalent of a trip to a history museum. The sandstone facade was quarried by convicts, the walls are plastered with naval prints and plaques, and the wooden floors are creaky and well-worn.

    Grab one of the house-brewed beers and a classic beef pie, then nab yourself a window seat for sweeping views across the harbour. If, after a few hours, you’re not quite ready to re-engage with the outside world, book yourself into one of the rooms upstairs and spend the night imagining what Sydney looked like when the Lord Nelson first opened its doors.


    As you drink and dine with your American Express, reap all the sweet rewards of being a Card Member. Explore the many ways American Express has your back here.

    Top image: Katje Ford.

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