My first time at Mary’s, we almost burnt the place down.
I’m glad we didn’t succeed because the bar’s burger is already being slated everywhere as the best in Sydney. I couldn’t take the guilt if we’d deprived everyone of the chance to try it.
It was their third day of business. Sated with delicious cheeseburgers and fried chicken, our table had finished eating when a stray paper napkin became too cosy with a candle. Whoosh! Somehow a mini bonfire materialised on the table. Within the dimly lit interior, the fire’s deep glow was a beacon in the upstairs area, drawing the eyes of all. Paralysed with surprise, we stupidly gaped and were saved by another customer from a nearby table. He jumped up and efficiently swatted at the flames before it spread. A staff member rushed over to make sure we were okay and that the fire was completely put out.
Despite the lack of obvious signage, Mary’s has been busy from day one. Opened by Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham [ex Bodega and Porteño respectively], Mary’s is located in an old hall behind Newtown pub, Kelly’s on King. Praise for their fried chicken and burgers rolled through my Twitter feed almost as soon as they opened. However, to only mention the food is to do Mary’s a disservice. The staff are fun yet helpful and the bar’s vibe is low key and relaxed. It’s a perfect neighbourhood bar for Newtown that doesn’t feel too cool for school. Albeit one so currently popular that on the Saturday night just past, some people waited 90 minutes to get inside.
My personal tip? Try Mary’s on a weekend during the day. It’s still busy but not as hectic and there aren’t any lines. I returned this past weekend for a lazy Sunday lunch with my friend Dan. Open from midday, we were able to stroll into the empty bar, chat with the staff and generally take our sweet time. Since I’d previously tried the fried chicken and cheeseburger, I wanted to sample some other items on the succinct food menu.
As I chatted with Lou the bartender, I spied one of the owners Jake (ex Bodega) folding something in a bowl. ‘Is that mashed potato?!’ I asked excitedly. Potatoes in all forms are my weakness. Jake responded in the affirmative, reached across the bar and covered my fingertip in some of the buttery concoction. It was going to be even smoother once he finished pushing it through a sieve. The phrase ‘we’re not here to f*%k spiders’ came up and Jake explained it referred to food only being worth bothering about if it was full of fat/butter. When it comes to mashed potato, I kind of have to agree. I mightn’t put a lot of butter in at home but if I’m out, I want the rich stuff!
Ordering a pint each of the local Newtown beer Young Henry’s, Dan and I sat upstairs as they changed the keg before bringing our drinks to us. I like the old Jack Daniels bottles that have been refashioned into light fittings. Even the salt and pepper shakers are mini bar sized Jack Daniels bottles. With white walls, wooden paneling, black cast iron and sparse furnishings, Mary’s has a bit of a masculine feel inside. It can get a little warm upstairs, particularly when it’s busy but the air conditioning installation should be completed shortly.
If you visit, you may notice the word slayer scrawled in various places around the bar. Jake tells me that there are about thirty in total, including one in the ladies bathroom. Despite this, when I visit it later, I look around in vain and can’t find the slayer tag anywhere inside. It’s probably an even more fun game once you’ve had a few drinks.
After we’ve enjoyed our beers for a while, Lou comes upstairs and asked if we’d like to order some food. It’s unusual but very pleasant that table service is available. The Mary burger is the same as the cheeseburger but includes tomato, lettuce and a special sauce. I’m also tempted by the ‘shroom burger even though most vegetarian burgers I’ve ever tried are a sad disappointment. Dan agrees to share everything so I pumped for the ‘shroom burger with the addition of some trashcan bacon. Yes, that’s bacon created in an Oscar the Grouch style trashcan, hence the name. Dan chose the Mary’s burger and we both have handcut chips instead of fries. After tasting the mash with Jake, I semi-shamefully ask if it would be weird to order a side of mash and gravy but Lou encourages us so what the heck, we get that too. With ex-Tetsuya chef Luke Powell at the helm, the food may seem fast but it has a great pedigree. The lightning-quick chorus of ‘best burger in Sydney’ backs this up.
I almost feel as I don’t need to tell you what the food was like. The burgers were phenomenal, although good as the Mary’s burger was, I felt the tomato and lettuce were a bit superfluous. Next time, I’d probably just get the cheeseburger. The ‘shroom burger was a perfectly grilled mushroom that melded well with the soft, slightly sweet bun. Adding the trashcan bacon was a winner too, lending a smoky element to the burger. The handcut chips were fluffy with decent potato flavour and as recommended by Lou, we dipped the chips into the mash and gravy. It was a deeply guilty pleasure that made me feel little dirty.
I can also recommend the fried chicken on the menu which comes in half bird, whole bird and playfully, larry bird servings. It took me a while to remember that Larry Bird was a famous American basketball player in the 1980s and early 1990s. Basically, it’s two whole chickens so just like Larry Bird himself, it’s big. The wine list like the food is listed on a large chalkboard mounted opposite the bar and the bartenders can whip you up a cocktail on demand.
In the interests of full disclosure, the guys behind Mary’s are friends with some friends of mine. As I’ve mentioned before, I only write about places I like and pay for everything ordered. If I manage to include a ridiculous story in a post, all the better. Besides, friend of a friend is a pretty loose connection.
Mary’s is finally open and hopefully, here to stay for a long time. It’s a convivial place and pyromaniacs are probably not welcome. So watch out for those pesky paper napkins.
6 Mary Street, Newtown NSW
Open Monday – Friday 4pm – 12am, Saturday 12pm – 12am & Sunday 12pm – 10pm.