The combined talents of bar guru Stephen Smooker and wine luminary Sophie Otton doing their thing in a warm and friendly bar makes for a damn fine local, and one worth travelling for, too.
The nuts & bolts
Newtown wine bar She Loves You has mastered the art of the table for two. A line of scruffy booths runs down one side of this cosy neighbourhood bar. Four punters per table would be a bit of a squeeze, but it’s just the right amount of space for a two-top to cosy up over a game of backgammon.
The fit-out is decidedly retro, but not in a gimmicky way. Opposite those booths are shelves stacked with vintage trinkets such as old soda bottles and earthenware, and the vibe is helped along by a soundtrack of jazz and swing from the 1920s and ’30s. “It’s all about the candlelight, the music and the mood,” says cocktail master Stephen Smooker. He owns the joint with partner Sophie Otton, who takes care of wine selections.
Otton and Smooker opened the bar in 2017 as a sidestep from high-end fine dining. Before setting up SLY, as it’s affectionally known, Otton was a wine buyer for Rockpool then the sommelier for Billy Kwong. “We wanted to open a place that was the antithesis of formality, a place where we can just be ourselves,” she says.
Nearly five years in, and the pair feel at home in their more casual digs. “We love the people and the colourful street life, especially down the south end of King Street, which is still relatively undiscovered, still real and gritty,” Otton says.
The ever-changing wine list is relayed verbally. “Depending on the day, there may be up to a dozen wines or more by the glass,” she says. Minimal intervention options go down well with the Newtown crowd, but if a conventional wine is good and the label fits, Otton has no problems getting it in.
There are usually about 80 by-the-bottle options, both local and international. “I have a particular weakness for Italian wines,” she says, preferring the savoury, structured and aged over the young and fruity.
There’s no chef to speak of — being a small bar without a kitchen, snacks are plated up between pours. “Offerings change daily with various cheeses, cured meats, tinned mussels, anchovies, sardines and the like,” Otton says. “We don’t like being tied down… At the moment, we’re serving furikake picked eggs, gigante butter beans with lemon zest, and roasted yellow capsicums with marjoram and capers. We make up each plate according to guest’s preferences and what’s available, so no two plates are ever the same.”