Those brave enough to mosey down the darkened alleyway that is Clarence Street in search of a stiff drink will be rewarded. The unassuming courtyard you arrive in — that already plays host to drinking meccas The Baxter Inn and The Barber Shop — has an impressive new venue. Named after the fellow who would go on to become King William IV, The Duke of Clarence is a particularly ambitious venture — it's a 1800s-style British tavern, somewhere Charles Dickens might have penned Great Expectations over a couple of ales and a pork pie.
A pub is supposed to be the sort of place where you can sit on a pint with some mates and watch the world go by. But this is a vibe that Sydney is sadly losing as old pubs are being bought up left, right and centre and converted into Instagrammable shadows of their former selves. Thankfully, The Duke of Clarence is a pub without the 21st-century clickbait.
According to owner Mikey Enright, the team "wanted to do something original, that looks like it's already been there for 100 years". And the fit-out is meticulous. Everything from the floorboards to the leather couches and bar stools have been handpicked and shipped over from pubs and churches in the UK. The result is a cosy cavern, complete with nooks and comfy places to sit, that feels truly authentic. Unfortunately, it seems authenticity is a foreign concept to some Sydneysiders as a handful of individuals pulled out books from shelves to check that they were real and not just some tricksy wallpaper (or cloth-bound Kindles).
The ye olde tavern seems to have become a high powered magnet for suit-donning city bros who make up roughly 80-percent of the clientele, their needs met by the bar's heavy focus on cask ales and extensive whiskey offering (not to say city bros don't like Pimm's cups or rosé, The Duke of Clarence have those too). But given that there are over 500 spirits, numerous imported and local wines and an interesting list of innovative cocktails there really is something for everyone no matter what your preference.
The food on offer is unmistakably British, a tasty nod to the morsels popularised by the drinking quarters of Northern England where owner Enright grew up. The menu has a distinctly carnivorous vibe, however, so if you're after something a little less meaty this might not be the place for you.
Our favourite was the fish finger sandwich ($15) — a drastic improvement on the stodgy Birds Eye original — with fresh fish in a crisp batter coated in a light tartare sauce and served in cloud-like fingers of white bread. The woodfired bone marrow ($16) is moreish; there's something particularly cathartic about scooping out liquid bone meat with a knife and spreading it thickly on a slice of grilled bread. And while the scotch egg ($12) and Ploughman's lunch ($25) — a board topped with a hunk of vintage cheddar, a portly pork pie, grilled bread and pickles — were tasty, they lacked in the local touches and nuances that made the other menu items stand out.
Aside from the handful of menu items that could use some refinements, The Duke of Clarence is all class and a real testament to what a bar can be when it's not based purely on Instagram trends. After a few hours spent in a snug little nook knocking back brews, it's strangely easy to forget which century you're in — if it weren't for the fact that everyone was wearing suits and equipped with an iPhone, you'd be forgiven for thinking you had travelled back in time.