Picture this: it’s a Saturday evening and you want to go out for a few bevvies with your mates, but you just can’t be bothered dressing up and heading into the city. Well, if you live in Summer Hill, we’ve got the answer. There’s a new bar in town, and it’s shaping up to be one of the best in the inner west.
Located in an old post office building, Vernon’s Bar is delivering something new to the area. Putting its own stamp on the space with classic leather banquettes and mood lighting, it’s the perfect spot for an after-work drink or two (or five). And with over sixty types of wine on the menu, there’s a mer-lot to say chardon-yay about!
Situated above local favourite restaurant, One Penny Red, Vernon’s Bar offers up casual versions of what’s served downstairs. There’s a smoked beef brisket bagel, which is all-round amazing, and fried chicken wing dings that are sure to ruffle your feathers.
We had a chat to the team behind the greatness, Nina Alidenes, RJ Lines and David Murphy, to find out more.
Hi Nina, David and RJ, thanks for taking the time to chat to us. Can you each tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in the industry?
Nina: I was in London in the early ‘90s working in real estate (my first career) and not having much fun, so decided to work at a busy high street restaurant in Kensington and travel more. I was at this restaurant for only a short time and moved to Launceston Place, sister restaurant of Kensington Place.
This is where my restaurant career really started. It was amazing, and I had never been involved in restaurants, food and wine like this. Rowleigh Lee, Nick Smallwood and Simon Slater owned these restaurants and it was just incredible to work here in the early ‘90s along with many Aussies.
This is where I cut my teeth, and on returning to Australia, I landed in Melbourne and worked at the Adelphi with Jeremy Strode and was on the launch team for Circa The Prince, St Kilda. Back in Sydney, I worked with Julie Manfredi Hughes and Steve Manfredi before starting my first restaurant in 2000 – Manna in Petersham.
RJ: My hospitality career began in 1999 at the basement jazz club in Circular Quay as a bar back and eventually a bar tender. It was a great place to work and a real eye opener into the industry. I was initially involved front-of-house and bartending in my younger years both here and abroad, which was a great experience in seeing how the other side operates. I made the jump to cooking seriously in 2004 training at Longrain for 2 years before moving to the newly opened Glebe Point Diner. After a second European sabbatical, I returned to Sydney to open the Neutral Bay Diner in 2009.
Vernon’s Bar is an upstairs addition to the Summer Hill favourite One Penny Red – how do they differ and what can patrons expect from Vernon’s Bar?
David: The aim was to create two distinct venues with individual personalities. Both spaces are welcoming, offering fabulous service, food and wine; however, now there is a distinction between the Restaurant and the Bar. Vernon’s is cosy, casual and available every night for just a quick pop in bevvy and snack or a long catch up with friends. Cosy nooks have been created in Vernon’s Bar to invite people to escape their busy agendas for as long as they want.
RJ: Vernon’s Bar is a relaxed and casual yet smart small bar with a kick-arse bar menu. I guess customers can expect a more relaxed atmosphere with some serious booze and food.
There are some amazing dishes on the menu like smoked ribs, hiramasa kingfish crudos, and fried chicken. Where do you find inspiration for dishes and flavour combinations?
RJ: The Yoder smoker in the backyard is my new favourite toy and provides a lot of inspiration and a different approach to cooking. Honestly, I am inspired by the seasons and also my great suppliers, who have their hands on some really interesting boutique products.
Alongside the mouth-watering food, there’s also an inventive selection of cocktails like the Willy Chapman – a blend of sloe gin, apricot and Prosecco – and the Shiso Sour – nikka, shiso leaf and absinthe. Which is your favourite, and why?
Nina: Tequila Mockingbird. So yummy and fresh with the passionfruit, but a definite kick with the tequila!
RJ: My favourite is the Tequila Mockingbird too. I love tequila, and I love passionfruit, so the two of those ingredients seal the deal for me.
Sounds like the Tequila Mockingbird is a winner, but what do you recommend for a killer food and drink pairing?
David: I love the beef short rib with kale and kohlrabi and any glass of delicious red. My pick this week would be a glass of Domaine Naturaliste Cabernet Malbec, 2014 – Margaret River, WA.
RJ: My heritage breed pork chop is my favourite thing on the menu right now and “The Hermit Ram” Field blend 2015 skin-fermented wine is a killer! The salty brined pork just works so well with this wine.
That sounds amazing! The space has some fantastic design flourishes. Who designed it and how did you choose them?
Nina: Together, we spent a lot of time working out how to create individual spaces to create the cosy, casual atmosphere we were after. Fiona Hick and Kellie Beattie of Commonplace designed the banquette, found the beautiful pendant lights and helped us create the spatial zoning we knew we needed. The central banquette was the start and then we worked around that.
As in all design, I think it is a collaboration, discussion and process. The banquette is a visual and social heart of the bar and the room flows around it. Opening up the office to a Private Dining Room also means the first-floor balcony has two access points, which again creates a great flow. The old stamps and first-day covers in frames on many of the walls are a childhood collection of mine, as well as some being gifted to us from a wonderful regular customer who has a stamp, medal and coin collecting business.
Slowly, design comes together and it was many months of finding the right fit. For example, we needed a sideboard and we were going to have one made, however, I decided to have a look on Gumtree and found an amazing 1960s Chiswell teak sideboard. It was just the perfect fit. We began with a list of design points, like a blackboard, plants, and spatial zoning, and it came together perfectly. The last small addition was the multi-coloured peacock feather wallpaper on the inside of the arch when you enter the bar. I went through many wallpaper books but just knew it was the right one when I saw it.
RJ: It was a real team effort. I’d have to say that Nina and David led the charge with the design process but we all agreed on things quite easily. I guess we were all on the same page, which made for a smooth process.
Where else in the area do you love to go for a great wining and dining experience?
Nina & David: We have a young family and love going to Rosso Pomodoro. The kids love the pizza – as do we – and they love the gelato.
RJ: If we’re talking bars, I love the Gretz on Enmore Rd. The guys there are always on their game and it’s the perfect Sunday arvo chill out. Restaurant-wise, I had a really great Sunday lunch at the newly opened Barzaari in Marrickville.
Vernon’s Bar can be found at 2 Moonbie St, Summer Hill – check out their Facebook page for all the latest updates!