Grain front with talent

A luxury hotel takes on the bar specialists.

Story: Julia Langham
Grain: 199 George Street, Sydney NSW
(02) 9250 3114 or www.grainbar.com.au

Surely there’s room at the Circular Quay end of Sydney’s George Street for one more gorgeous bar? Say hello to Grain, a bespoke artisan bar by Four Seasons Hotel. Yes, Grain is a hotel bar, yet crucially, it has direct access from the street and appears anything but ‘hotelish’ or ‘lobbyish’. What’s more, Grain nearly didn’t happen.
Dreamtime Design Australia (Mr Wong’s, Felix, Flying Fish and Argyle Bar to name just a few), was originally commissioned to provide a new restaurant bar within the hotel. The Woods house restaurant came next, but in researching the design, the team discovered an under-utilised function room that screamed out to be put to better use.
“We really felt the hotel could better use the space of an existing function room for an amazing destination bar for locals and hotel guests alike,” said Dreamtime’s chief dreamer, Michael McCann.
He and his design team (Jade Bolton and Xavier Mouche) set about convincing hotel management and the hotel’s owners to take a punt on providing another watering hole, in an already well watered area of the city. Yet after only a few of months in operation, it has proved to be a wise move.
“The suggestion by the designers was definitely worth investigating,” said General Manager Four Seasons Sydney, Vincent Hoogewijs. “The room that we transformed into Grain was always the last function room to sell and in a short time it has already proved profitable for us. Michael has done a great job. The bar is beautiful and very successful.”

Positioned overlooking George and Alfred Streets at Circular Quay off the hotel’s lobby, Grain is a welcoming blend of craft and class with a casual indoor/outdoor feel that, let’s face it, Sydney does so well.
It’s a bar that pays homage to the origins of grain-based alcohol and the intricate grains in the hand-made timbers. The Woods restaurant continues the timber-led theme with reference to wood smoke and wood grilled food.
“Grain has been designed as a unique ‘artisan’ bar; a blend of both artisan design and artisan operation,” said Mr McCann.
On entering the bar guests are drawn to a quietly spectacular central island bar clad in giant curved slabs of sustainable Queensland blackbutt timber over a frosted glass inner core with hand-crafted woodwork by Athol Wright of Country Design Furniture.
Within the bar a custom designed up-lit wall of bottles by local structural specialist Noel Bowden and lighting supplier Opal Lighting/Tim Barry seems to float in mid air.
The walls are clad in American cherry wood, adding a subtle shade of red to complement the use of warm vibrant copper throughout the bar and one wall features a back-lit section of laser-cut perforations behind the solid veneer front in a stylised delta pattern, which glows softly from within, bringing out the natural red of the cherry wood. Another timber wall features a beautiful inlay of antique copper metal in the veneer.
Large-grained timber doors featuring a patchwork of Australian hardwood provide access directly from the street as well as the hotel lobby.
Amazingly, the feature fireplace clad in Vavona burl timber has been shaved from the root of a giant North American Sequoia Redwood.
“This represents perhaps the ultimate in recycling by the use of the root of the tree,” explained McCann. “It also features hand-made copper-clad rocks by Axolotl Liquid Metals, inspired by the stunning cast bronze fire features of New York artist Elena Colombo.”
Fully retractable eight-foot glass windows open to glimpses of the Quay over a native garden of slow-growing Australian grass trees (they take up to 100 years to grow just one metre high), while an eclectic mix of commissioned artworks link the individual elements of design.
“One of my favourite features of the bar is the commissioned artwork (Salago palm pulp and metal wire sculpture wall hanging titled ‘Little People’ from Philippines artist Kenneth Cobonpue) that features hundreds of little men crawling all over the wall — it is really unusual with a sense of humour,” said Mr Hoogewijs.
In another move to set apart the bar from its hotel origins, Grain is helmed by David Ramos Hernandez, an international bar manager with a canny knowledge of the Sydney market. He set up and managed the popular small bar, Low 302 in Surry Hills, as well as stints working in The Argyle, Bayswater Brasserie and Longrain.
Staff are dressed in clothing by edgy Surry Hills designer, Saxony. Mr Hoogewijs says it’s to make punters feel connected and relaxed in a chic and classy, yet casual vibe.
“The clothes are black and white so you can still tell the staff from the guests,” he laughs.
With a menu designed by chef Hamish Ingham — also an import from Surry Hills who owns the one-hatted popular eatery Bar H — includes the likes of Deep Fried Old Man’s Saltbush with aioli, Oysters by Steve Feletti, yabbies with lemon and herbs, and Grain’s own dry-aged beef short rib burger. Washed down with a bespoke Grain lager crafted by The Rocks Brewing Co, it’s taken summer in the city to a whole new level.

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