When The Taphouse in Darlinghurst changed hands in 2020, there were more than a few people grieving the loss of Odd Culture, the sour beer bar on the second floor. But they didn't have to grieve for long – the sellers of The Taphouse changed their name from Thorpe Hospitality Group to Odd Culture Group, and promised to open a new venue in Newtown.
The pandemic might have ensured the journey said opening was rather longer than hoped. But now Odd Culture in Newtown is open, the beers are pouring, and very much the opposite of boring.
Since it's owned by the same group that owns and runs The Oxford Tavern in Petersham, The Duke of Enmore, and the Old Fitzroy Hotel in Woolloomooloo, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the plan was to create another refurbished pub oozing cool and crafty. But Odd Culture is something different; not just different to the aforementioned pubs, but different to pretty much everything else around, thanks to European inspiration blended with a focus on fermentation.
After 12 months of development – the normal lengthy process of fitting out the venue coupled with the abnormal process of dealing with COVID and a lengthy lockdown – the venue opened its doors onto King Street in Newtown in late October (followed a couple of weeks later by the bottleshop a few doors down). Following a model that's common in Europe but rare in Australia, OC opens at 7am as a café, transitions to some point in the day into a bar with 12 taps and a sprawling wine list, serves up a classy food menu that could pass as fine dining (with a casual twist), and remains open until 2am.
But, as may be evident, the long opening hours aren't the half of it. Group beverage manager Jordan Blackman refers to the venue as: “A monster of a project with one of the most extensive booze offerings in the country, world class chefs in the kitchen, [and] an all-star management team”… but it's the little things that make Odd Culture what it is.
Perhaps it all stems from the celebration of fermentation; after all, bacteria and yeast are some of the littlest things around. From the sour beer to the biodynamic wines, through the house-fermented cocktail ingredients to the pickled and cultured elements littering the food menu, Odd Culture explores the work of the tiny creatures who make fermentation happen.
Anyone familiar with the previous Odd Culture bar in Darlinghurst remembers its niche nature, centring around sour beer and wild fermentation. OC Newtown has held onto the best of this – at any given time, around half of the taps are given over to a sour and funky lineup hailing from as close as Marrickville to as far away as Belgium. The other taps broaden the options with a permanent saison, cider, a few easy drinkers, a rotating fresh IPA tap and a rotating stout tap. If that's not enough, the multi-page bottle list has all the farmhouse ales, fruit sours and lambics a funk lover can handle.
The beer offering is supported by a two-hundred-strong wine list with a leaning towards natural, organic and biodynamic, and a cocktail list with signature pieces featuring house-fermented sodas. The capstone is a sour negroni containing Spanish vermouth blended with Boon's Kriek Mariage Parfait. Yes, that's as impressive as it sounds.
It's hard to squeeze Odd Culture into a box. Is it a beer bar? Is it a wine bar? Is it a cocktail bar? The food menu takes this hybrid feel even further, bringing together fermented, fusion and fine dining, and yet somehow remaining laidback. Are you after pet nat and oysters? Cocktails, kriek, and a four-course feast? Local pale ale and hunks of housemade beer sourdough? You're covered.
The dishes include plenty of European influence, some Asian flourishes, and a lot of little things you've never seen before and you'll never see anywhere else. Swathes of the menu will change with the seasons, but the thread of fermented, pickled and preserved ingredients will always remain.
Category-busting is kind of a hobby for Odd Culture. The venue is a chameleon. Up on the mezzanine level, you're treated to full table service. You have the option of long banquet seating for a classy birthday dinner, or intimate corners for romantic encounters. But downstairs, you can sit at the bar and watch the bartenders climb the ladder to reach your top shelf whiskey, or meet a mate for a beer and pull up a stool at the kitchen bench to watch the chefs at their wizardry. (Or you can meet with a mate in an intimate corner upstairs. No one's stopping you.)
If you're a people-watcher, the best seat in the house is at the concertina windows looking onto King Street, where you can let a steady flow of Newtown folk pass by with all their eccentricities – not to mention their four-footed friends. (Dogs are also welcome in the bar, by the way.)
The beauty of this place is that for all its upmarket offerings, there's nothing exclusive about it. The open air space has a relaxed vibe that welcomes you in off the street. You don't need to know the secret handshake and the Latin name for each strain of bacteria in your beer before you can enter the inner sanctum. Just come in and discover some of the little details: the subtle mural that pays homage to the site's previous tenant; the timber bar made from railway sleepers; the custom-made French oak tables brought in from France.
You can see the hand of local sign artist Bodie Jarman around the place: one wall shows remnants of a Chinese restaurant sign paying homage to when Happy Chef occupied the space before a tragic fire in 2018; another shows a vintage-looking mural advertising Resch's Dinner Ale; and the Odd Culture bottleshop bears Bodie's handiwork, too.
The bottlo serves as a kind of extended wine list for the venue; anything available there can be purchased for drinking at the main venue. But, of course, its primary function is that it allows you to take a little Odd Culture home with you.
The shop is expertly curated to continue the theme of the venue: the walls are lined with hundreds of wines, the fridges are full of beers with a large contingent of sours and wild ales, and the shelves down the centre have plenty of fermented goods like pickles, shrubs, vinegars and hot sauces. Funk is king, quality is queen, and the railway sleeper shelves, murals and record player are the loyal subjects.
Odd Culture in Newtown is all about the little things. But bring together enough little things and it's kind of a big deal.