"If These Walls Could Talk...": We Chatted to the Owner of VASCO to Hear the Secret to Controlling Chaos For Over a Decade

Sydneysiders love a venue with character — Sid Chand shares what makes his Surry Hills joint and its brand new Newtown sibling so special.
Alec Jones
Published on June 21, 2024

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In an era of hospitality chains and copy-paste websites, Sydney diners are beginning to crave venues with character. And what venues have more character — sticky floors and all — than dive bars?

Rocking bar VASCO has been a cornerstone of the Sydney dive scene since 2012. At both the OG Surry Hills venue and the recently opened Newtown outpost, it's all about controlled chaos and striking the balance between grungy and overpolished.

We sat down with VASCO's current owner, Sid Chand, to talk about the past, present and future of these beloved watering holes.

How long has VASCO been in business and what's the secret to keeping a bar successfully running all these years?

VASCO is a rock-and-roll cocktail bar and Italian restaurant...[that] has been running since 2012, and I've owned it for about six years now.

Over time, we've developed into more than just a place to let your hair down; we overhauled the kitchen to create a dynamic and innovative menu that we see people travelling from all over Sydney to try.

We kept going with providing good quality food, good quality service, and a vibrant atmosphere. The venue itself is so eclectic and aesthetically pleasing. Every now and then, I'll go there and just look at the [decor], and I still haven't seen everything. There's so much to look at.

So you didn't really change the core fundamentals? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Exactly right.

How would you describe VASCO to someone who has never been before?

From the beginning VASCO has always been about organised chaos. If these walls could talk, we'd be in some strife — it's got character, let's put it that way.

We're a loud rock and roll bar with good quality Italian food. When you think of a dive bar, food isn't the first thing you think of, but we've tried to subvert peoples expectations by providing good quality food without compromising on the chaos that people love us for.

Do you have a favourite item on the menu?

One day, our head chef at Newtown came in and said to me, "I had this dream. It's a hash brown but it's a carbonara... the egg yolk is inside hash brown batter and guanciale. Can I make it for you?". I tried it and was like, "What the f***? This is so good", and now it's one of our best sellers. Not to mention, we have the best vodka rigatoni in Sydney.

How does the gritty, carefree attitude of rock n' roll music carry over to VASCO?

When VASCO was opened, the owner and his family loved rock and roll, and Vasco Rossi is a massive rock star in Italy. So music has always been at the forefront of the brand for us.

We want to embody the vibe of throwing TVs out of hotel windows, trashing tour buses, and staying out all night. We want to bring back the wrongness that Sydney is missing. We're a little messy and a lot of fun.

How do you encourage customers to stay a bit later and get loose?

I want to turn VASCO Newtown into a live music venue. We had the Frankie's House Band play a couple of months ago, and it was an exceptional turnout. So my direction for [VASCO] Newtown is to bring more live music and work with the local music scene to showcase some up-and-coming bands.

The walls are absolutely coated in memorabilia. Which piece is your favourite and what's the story behind it?

That's a tough question. There was a guitar that Max (the original owner) had that was signed by Dave Grohl. And when he sold me the business, he said, "Sid, I'm gonna sell you everything except for this guitar". If you notice that spot, there's a sign that says, "Don't touch the f*****g guitar".

Sydney is full of polished venues and brightly lit interiors. Is there still an appeal for places that are a bit more rough around the edges?

I definitely think so. I think people like the independence. I think people like supporting smaller businesses instead of just throwing money at these large corporations that open three to four venues a month. Obviously small venues can't compete with that, but I think what we do have is character. And that's something money can't buy.


VASCO Newtown and Surry Hills have launched new winter menus, including home-made confit garlic flatbread, spanner crab crostini and crumbed pork cotoletta at Newtown and the aforementioned hashbrown cacio e pepe, artichoke, spinach and ricotta ravioli and more at Surry Hills, so it's the perfect time to swing by for a visit.

VASCO Newtown and Surry Hills are open Tuesday to Sunday until late. For more information or to make a booking, visit the website.

Published on June 21, 2024 by Alec Jones
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