DS Oficina

Sydneysiders love speaking about the heyday of pre-lockout laws where nighttime meant having an array of options for food, drinks, and live music. But lockout laws, Covid-19, and the cost-of-living crisis has seen things change across the city when it comes to options after dark.

In response, a wave of new late-night venues are popping up around the city offering additional experiences that are versatile in set-up and approach and focused on premium food and drink offerings.

Hospitality speaks to Odd Culture Group’s Nick Zavadszky about the new late-night haunt Pleasure Club; Etymon Project’s Neil Leo on CBD venue Tiva; and Solotel’s Elliot Solomon on Barangaroo’s Rekōdo about the status quo of nightlife.

The latest jewel in Odd Culture Group’s crown Pleasure Club has arrived in Sydney’s Inner West. Creative Director Nick Zavadszky says the Newtown venue is an example of the city’s new-look nighttime experience. “We want to change the way we perceive and interact with late-night experiences in Sydney,” says the creative director.

Zavadszky says the current state of Sydney’s late-night scene has been shaped by the past challenges the industry has faced. “They [guests] really are discerning about the way they invest [money], and hospitality venues are competing for good ideas more than ever,” he says. “We’re seeing many venues engage in a process of diversifying their product mix more than they would usually be comfortable with.”

Guests are now in search of extra, experiential elements. “This is something which is really open-ended and exciting to play with,” says Zavadszky. “When you pair them alongside your regular product offering, it creates a level of depth to your venue experience which I think is becoming necessary in the market.”

For Zavadszky and the Pleasure Club team, the experiential element comes in the form of a cocktail lab with Re-’s Matt Whiley. “It’s very ambitious because we’re executing a world-class cocktail bar alongside a live music and performance space,” explains the creative director.

“We were thinking, ‘How do we add another layer to this [venue] that creates something just as exciting, but gives us something else to play with in the product space?’” Whiley is working alongside Odd Culture Group’s Creative Beverage Lead Sam Kirk for the concept which focuses on seasonal storytelling through drinks lists.

When it comes to the food offering, Zavadszky believes guests are in search of tasty, value-for-money options at an elevated level. “Recognisable things that are executed in a more expert way than then you would have experienced them in the past is something that resonates with people,” he says. “But equally, fun — especially when drinking.”

In late 2022, Etymon Projects opened the doors to Tiva in the Sydney CBD. Located downstairs from its French eatery The Charles Grand Brasserie and Bar, Tiva is open Wednesday through to Saturday and has live music each Friday and Saturday night.

Etymon Projects’ Director of Operations Neil Leo feels the needs and wants of patrons have changed, which has seen new-look late-night hospitality venues open in the city. “Lockout laws, Covid-19, and now high living costs have really shifted what a night out looks like for the general public in Sydney,” he says. “There is a generation of people who have grown up over this era and it has shifted their experience.”

For Leo and the Tiva team, the new era of late-night hospitality revolves around flexibility, diversity, and consistency. “We focus on sending out a message that we are a space that curates a diverse offering of music, but with consistency,” he says. “As people are out in the city, we want them to know they can rock up to Tiva and experience what they loved the last time they went.”

Tiva’s current offering features a program of live singers and DJs on Friday nights, and a range of RnB, Afro beats, house, and techno artists every Saturday night. Along with showcasing a wide range of music genres, Leo believes guests are also in search of options when it comes to venue set-up and how they can enjoy music offerings.

“We wanted to create a space that evolved with the crowd,” he says. “It is a space that through design allows people to have full participation on the dancefloor or enjoy from afar at our range of tables and lounge-style seating.”

A versatile and appealing food and drink offering is also essential. “Food is important — it can’t be an afterthought,” says Leo. “We believe the key elements are having a menu of high-quality, decadent dishes that can be shared and snacked on as you listen to music and ample bites that form a full meal.”

Tiva’s food offering features Asian-style share plates with guests able to order at the table and from the bar. According to Leo, some of the menu’s top dishes include soft shell crab baos with sudachi mayonnaise; pork-stuffed chicken wings with sobacha; lobster toast; and kingfish with kombu and drunken trout roe vinaigrette.

“We wanted people to come for the music and enjoy the offering or come for the offering and discover their new favourite artist,” he says. In Barangaroo, Solotel’s vinyl bar Rekōdo has been serving up a live music program paired with Japanese-inspired food and drinks since 2022.

Solotel knows its way around Sydney’s late-night scene, operating other venues such as The Abercrombie which has a 24-hour license. “There has always been, and I think always will be, a demand for late-night venues,” says CEO Elliot Solomon. “Whether it’s from 9pm to midnight or later until sunrise.”

Solomon says people’s needs have changed in recent years, and late-night venues are not all about dancefloors but spaces with access to high-quality food and drink. “In terms of what people are looking for, this varies widely across our venues from a dancefloor to burn off some energy through to a full meal at 10pm,” he says.

“The full experience is equally important — music obviously, but the drinks, the food, the staff, the crowd. It all needs to be on point to make it memorable.”

Late-night guests can expect a share-style menu at Rekōdo which covers quick snacks or a longer, omakase-style experience. Some of the dishes on offer include edamame; pork belly baos with yuzu mustard; a range of yakiniku skewers and sashimi; plus larger options such as marinated Wagyu steak or steamed Flame Tail snapper.

Solomon says making sure there’s something for every appetite is vital. “With food, being versatile is important so guests don’t feel like they have to order a huge dish if all they want are some snacks,” he says. “Tasty and moreish is key especially when you’re drinking.”

As with any industry, Sydney’s late-night hospitality scene has certainly pivoted to cater to a new audience of patrons. Operators agree that extra, experiential elements, elevated food offerings, versatile settings, and diverse offerings are all things the late night public prioritises and seeks out.

Something else they agree on? The continuous growth of the landscape. “Late-night live music venues are a key part of every city,” says Leo. “I think they will always be around, they might just look a little different to before. I do think we will continue to see venues innovate and get creative to adapt to this type of market.”

Solomon agrees late-night venues have their place, no matter what they may look like. “The future is bright,” he says. “Of course, operators are constantly being challenged to think outside the box and curate new experiences that engage people, but that’s why we love this industry.”

Zavadszky believes the movement is ultimately pushing operators to think ahead. “Introducing a diversified offering as the new norm is levelling up the industry for the better,” he says. “People will have to innovate and compete for good ideas more than ever and it’s producing fascinating results.”