A hotel built in 1862, an eerie deep water well and secret, empty cellars… It sounds like a scene from a horror flick, yet these historic features and more help make the unique bottleshop experience that is Sturt Street Cellars in the heart of Adelaide’s CBD.
The venue is connected to the Kings Head Hotel and both focus on offering nothing but 100 percent independently owned South Australian booze. Owner Gareth Lewis is a veteran of the state’s hospitality scene and one third of the team that conceived the Adelaide Beer & BBQ Festival (now in Sydney too), and decided to open Sturt Street Cellars due to the high demand from people wanting to buy South Australian products in the city.
“We had so many people asking us where we could buy the stuff we were stocking in the bar,” he says. “We would send them to bottleshops but there just aren’t that many in the city.”
And there certainly aren’t any bottleshops like Sturt Street Cellars, even though you will find everything that a bottleshop typically stocks. Step inside and you’ll discover an open plan bar area with eight continually rotating taps and a long communal table at which you can enjoy your purchases.
The taps in the bottleshop replicate eight of the 12 taps pouring in the front bar of the Kings Head with four always dedicated to beers you can’t buy in cans or bottles. Pouring beers you can't get in packaged form gives Gareth and his team the opportunity to show off another way in which the store comes into its own: they’ve installed a CANimal (Crowler) machine that allows them to fill 948ml tinnies directly from the tap on site; they’re labeled on site and the contents can remain fresh for up to two weeks.
The fridges, shelves and taps are stocked with locally owned and produced wine, spirits, beer, cider and booze-friendly snacks and condiments. The aim is to be a one stop shop for good booze and small goods in the city: the ultimate CBD cellar door.
At time of writing, there are around 280 independently owned South Australian wine labels gracing the shelves. Among them are many showcasing emerging varieties and some relatively unknown winemakers; pay a $15 corkage fee and you can enjoy any of them anywhere within the hotel.
The Cellars play host to a weekly tasting program too: Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons are for wine drinkers, while the aim on Thursday evenings is to showcase local breweries or distillers. In addition to the weekly tasting program, the hatch of the underground historic cellar will be flung open on occasion to entertain invitation only private tasting events. The cellars were previously the keg rooms for the better part of 100 years but now they will be used for intimate events with room for around 20 guests.
“Anything from dinners to masterclasses to straight out tastings,” says Gareth. “We will look at doing chocolate matching masterclasses, we are doing label launches down there and these events will vary throughout the year.”
It’s not just liquids on the menu either, as the kitchen serves the Kings Head’s normal pub menu during the week and a simple snack style menu on the weekends. Then, on Sundays during summer, food trucks roll in to serve a different cuisine each week.
At the helm is "booze guru" Kelly Hunter, a veteran of many Barossa vintages, involved in opening numerous cellar doors, including Tomfoolery and Hewitson, and beer nut in her spare time.
On occasion, among those new releases you’ll find some that the Sturt Street crew has had a hand in creating; a collaborative bunch, they’ve been teaming up with local breweries and winemakers on one-off releases. These beers and wines will pour exclusively in the Cellars and Kings Head, with Little Bang Brewing getting involved early on, suggesting the collaborations will be well worth hunting down and in keeping with the neon mantra adorning one of the walls.
It says, simply: "Drink better booze."