Employees Only Sydney, the highly anticipated Australian debut from the seminal New York speakeasy, will open in the CBD at 6pm, Saturday 24 November. Located in a heritage-listed basement on Barrack Street, Employees Only Sydney will make its mark on Australia’s hospitality scene with flawlessly-executed cocktails and refined food, served in a beautiful space without pretence. 

Highly regarded as the pioneers of speakeasy and frequenters of ‘world’s best bar’ lists, Employees Only was founded on an innate inclination for hospitality and desire to create a space for the industry call their own - the titular idea that Employees Only has always been about caring for people in the service industry as well as taking care of their guests. Employees Only Sydney continues this tradition serving food and drink until 3am, Monday-Saturday, and midnight on Sunday. 

At the heart of Employees Only is the staff. The group is known for their intensive apprenticeship programme and earning the EO Principal Bartender jacket is coveted by aspiring bartenders around the globe. For Sydney, Employees Only has recruited a stellar line-up of talent, led by Principal Bartender Robert Krueger (a member of the EO family for 12 years), and Head Bartender Dula Lorenzohewa, who are entrusted in nurturing and mentoring the hospitality talent. Co-founder Dushan Zarić has flown to Australia for the launch and will be training the staff and sharing his legendary experience with the local bar community.

Employees Only has gained a voracious and loyal following for its pioneering drinks, many of which have become industry classics. Here, Zarić and Krueger have developed a high-concept drinks list that features Employees Only’s signature cocktails alongside new creations imagined by the Sydney team. Guests can expect the EO classics such as the ‘Manhattan Cocktail’ with Knob Creek Rye stirred with Italian Vermouth, Grand Marnier and dashes of Angostura bitters; the ‘Amelia’ with Wyborowa Vodka, St. Germaine Elderflower liqueur shaken with fresh lemon and pureed blackberries; and the ‘Ginger Smash’ with fresh muddled ginger and ripe mango, shaken with Havana Club 3, Velvet Falernum, Luxardo maraschino and fresh lime. There will also be a new drink making its debut which has been carefully developed by the local team called ‘The Down Payment’, an unusual but seriously tasty concoction of Barsol Pisco shaken with avocado, fresh lime, Strega, Suze and Aqua Faba 

Krueger says, “The cocktails are a great mixture of diligence and fun. We want it to be the kind of place that experts in the field want to hang out at and invite their friends to join them”.

As for the food philosophy, the founders created Employees Only to be a place where the drinks and food are on par and go hand in hand. The kitchen is helmed by ‘the two French chefs’, Aurelien Girault and Leo Garnier, working closely together on the New York Bistro style menu, suited to the casual accessibility and relaxed surroundings of the dining space. The menu brings together a melting pot of cultures with a classic French backbone and incorporates a wide-reaching range of flavours, ingredients, cuisines and cultures to cater to the adventurous Sydney palate. Australian seafood and local and native Australian ingredients such as quandong, Karkella and salt bush will also be showcased. 

The menu is split into a dinner menu that is served from 5pm-11pm, and an all-night bar menu from 5pm-3am, and features easy to share options for more casual grazing, as well as hearty dishes for a satisfying dinner. Guests can start with freshly shucked oysters with EO Bloody Mary mix and mignonette, vegetarian, raw and charcuterie sharing platters served with bread, crostini and house pickles, or indulge in caviar service with a choice of Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon, ARS Italica Imperial Oscietra, Tzar Nicoulai White Sturgeon served with chive crème fraiche, grated egg, and buckwheat blinis. 

The dinner menu features handmade dishes such as a robust Risotto Nero with local charred Hawkesbury calamari and the crunch and zing of lemon Pangratatto, chargrilled Ribeye on the bone with red wine, watercress and Horseradish, and whole fish to share which will change daily according to what is fresh. Late night offerings such as the Berkshire pork cottaletta with Tuscan cabbage slaw, and the EO beef burger with jalapeño Monterey Jack, Bois Boudran relish, pickles and pancetta, will be firm favourites of the after-hours hospitality crew. 

A handful of New York favourites will be carried over, including the famous steak tartare, made with hand cut filet mignon, roasted tomato puree, parsley, Dijon, capers, shallots and Employees Only hot sauce; the bone marrow poppers, complete with a pastry shell and bordelaise sauce, and the classic house-made Cavatelli, with pork sausage, tomato, rocket and parmesan cheese

Two long-standing traditions that are at the soul of the brand will be also be introduced to Sydney - the staff meal and the soup tradition. The Employees Only staff meal is made by the chefs each day as a family meal for the staff and will be extended to guests to enjoy as a special on the menu at a very reasonable price. It reflects the philosophy of serving the industry and treating customers as if they are a part of the family and will change daily with generous dishes like cacio e pepe with grilled sardines, or Florecian gnocchi with gorgonzola. The soup tradition has become a ritualistic trademark of the brand and was first introduced as a nightly gift for the last people in the bar at the end of the night. At 3am, guests will be served a bowl of warm, chicken soup which comes from a 15-year-old family recipe, to signify that the bar is closing and it’s time for them to make their way home.

Employees Only’s exciting new chapter will not only celebrate much of what the original New York bar is renowned for but look to its new home for inspiration. The space has been designed by famed interior designer Tim Leveson (The Sandwich Shop, The Collector Store, Pane e Cipolla), and will pay homage to the original concept whilst creating a space that is entirely unique to Sydney.

Located in a heritage-listed basement on the CBD’s Barrack Street, the bar can be found by the neon “psychic” sign and EO-branded awning (recognisable to anyone who has visited another location). Guests enter through beautiful restored heritage doors and descend the staircase under an antique industrial chandelier and floor to ceiling hand-painted wall murals, to reach a surprise waiting for them at the bottom if they so desire to partake, and a drawn curtain.  

The bar is the first thing guests see when they enter through the curtain, it is the centre of energy and the focus of the action and has been designed so that the bartenders are close to the guests. Its curvy shape, materials and look echo the original in almost every way, with a beautiful brass bar-top that looks soft to touch and reflects a warm glow up onto the faces of the guests at the bar and into the room, and backlit glass shelves and mirrored back-bar that opulently display the goodies, as seen in all EOs around the world.

The space attracts early evening light from the skylights around the edges of the room, and as the night progresses the space will get darker and the interior will be lit with the deep glow of the wall highlights. The dining room features dark wood, brass finishes and sexy, dark green velvet wrap-around banquette seating, intentionally designed so that parties can grow (and often merge) as the hours go by. The space also holds a private room that will be open to guests most nights but can also be booked for sit down dinners and cocktail parties, and a unique séance room lit with cathedral candles that can hold five people.

The walls will be adorned with framed images of people bearing the infamous Employees Only tattoo, and photos of EO staff from over the years wearing their Principal Bartender jackets will be hung in cosy corners of the venue. There will also be two Principal jackets signed from both the Los Angeles and New York outposts that will be proudly framed and displayed for patrons to admire and the team to aspire after. Guests wanting to store their valuables can be given a special EO key to one of the beautifully embellished lockers with brass handles and vintage finishes, each equipped with their own charging station, allowing them to charge their never lasting mobile devices at their convenience.