When the news of the imminent closure of legendary jazz club The Basement broke, it seemed like another nail in Sydney’s live music and late-night frivolity coffin. Well, until the masters of loudness, late nights and boundless frivolity stepped in to not only rescue the venue as a live music mecca, but to do so in a way that retained an integral bit of The Basement’s DNA, while retooling it the Mary’s way.
Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham launched Mary’s in Newtown in 2013, somewhat propelling a movement of American-style fast food cooked with fine-dining skills. With the music heavy and loud, and the venue carved out with home-spun renovation skills, bedecked with graffiti and feeling more heavy metal pub than dining room, it’s no surprise that the more refined side of the cooking may have not registered with some. The food was good, damn good, but that temple of unpretentiousness was never about talking about the food. It’s all about good times.
With 45 years of history stacked up behind it, Smyth and Graham weren’t going to bin the legacy of The Basement, with their reboot keeping the jazz theme very much alive, even extending to their own house band, which takes the stage “until the wheels fall off” every Friday night. And while many might have expected the Mary’s crew’s emblematic fried chicken and burgers dripping in American cheese to be the core of the menu, Smyth and Graham took a sharp turn in the other direction, embracing their background in sophisticated cooking.
Upstairs, at Mary’s Circular Quay, you’ll find all the Mary’s favourites, with everything available in vegan versions, too, but downstairs is a very different story. In a hark back to times when restaurants with entertainment were not linked to culinary mediocrity, they have embraced a hyper indulgent menu featuring lobster, caviar, freshly popped oysters and even dry-aged duck from their bespoke duck drying cabinet. Think tiered seafood platters emerging from the Clam Bar and bombe alaska to finish, and you’ll get something of the picture.
Like the original Mary’s, there’s a big focus here on ‘natural’ wine, with ex-Fred’s sommelier Caitlyn Rees taking charge of the group’s lists. All the wines are made from organically or biodynamically farmed fruit, though some may not be certified, but Rees is absolute on the no additions bar a touch of sulphur. The list takes in 300-odd bins, with half international and half from closer to home (here and New Zealand), and 30 available by the glass. While Rees’ job is very much to oversee, industry legend Charles Leong takes the helm on the floor, adding another layer of depth to this label-defying venue.