IT’S A DREARY Monday evening in New York City, but South Soho Bar (also known as SoSo’s) is buzzing. The snug neighbourhood spot sits on a dead-ish street in lower Manhattan, a stone’s throw from the commercial chaos of one of the city’s busiest roads. When I walk in, the comforting waft of deep-fried potatoes tickles my nose, while the jovial sound of glasses clinking echoes around the room. Groups of people fill the bar’s leather booths, while young couples and older solo diners prop themselves up at the long, curvaceous bar, ready for a drink.
I’m here to meet SoSo’s owner, and one of the borough’s most respected hospitality kings, Eddy Buckingham. He’s a household name in the New York service industry, and also happens to be an Aussie export. Over the past eight years, Buckingham has cultivated a thriving cluster of bars and restaurants, all sitting within a one-mile radius of each other; there’s Chinese Tuxedo, a sexy, subterranean Chinese fine-diner; Peachy’s, its adjoining neon bar and dancefloor; The Tyger, a high-energy Southeast Asian restaurant; and his latest, SoSo’s. Soon, SoSo’s will expand to feature a 60-seat supper club next door.
Buckingham introduces himself with a warm smile, and his hosting instincts kick in instantly. “Can I get you anything to drink? Is this music too loud? Let me see if I can turn it down.”
Well before he ran one of the world’s coolest mini bar empires, Buckingham was pouring beers at Melbourne’s waterfront Riverland Bar. He was a typical uni student, studying full-time and working at the bar between classes for extra cash. “I was a terrible student, and I was [studying] out of expectation rather than doing something that was working for me,” he says. “I dropped out of university twice. The second time I went back I was working at Riverland, and I said to my bosses, ‘I’m really enjoying work, but if I’m going to drop out again, I need to do something a bit bigger’, and so they transitioned me to a venue manager.”
Buckingham managed Riverland three days a week and spent another three at the iconic Melbourne music venue Northcote Social Club. A year later, he relocated to Sydney, taking on a heavyweight role at what was then one of the country’s most groundbreaking nightlife venues: The Ivy.
New York beckoned, though, and after a trip to the city in 2009, Buckingham was convinced the scene was for him. “I absolutely fell in love with it and knew it was where I wanted to be.” He made the move and spent several years running bars and pubs in Manhattan before opening Chinese Tuxedo in 2016. Today, it’s one of the city’s coolest restaurant fixtures. Peachy’s, a venue Buckingham describes as something of a revelation, followed shortly after.
“Peachy’s was less preconceived, but it’s been a supernova,” he says. “It’s complementary but contrasting and brings on a distinct nightlife identity. People want to party down there, and I’m not gonna stop that —I love that.”
The Tyger opened in the tumultuous midst of Covid in NYC. “It was such a complex and strange time. You think it’s the worst idea to open a restaurant during that time, but it was also lightning in a bottle, because there was nothing new. I don’t think I’ll ever experience something as dynamic, demanding and rewarding. We had guests try the food and burst into tears; we had an incredible sense of camaraderie. There was a real mission.”
Buckingham’s venues, which sit under the umbrella of Tuxedo Hospitality, are distinctly unique from each other, yet they all hum with that indescribable energy that so often foreshadows a really good night. I ask him if this has something to do with his time in the Australian hospitality scene, to which he replies with a diplomatic answer. “Australian operators coming over here with an Australian sensibility are well positioned to do interesting things and have success… but I would never singularly attest to that. New York, more so than any other city on the planet, is very open and available to receive new voices, new people and new expressions.” This may be true. But Buckingham isn’t the only Aussie making a name for himself in the Big Apple.
SYDNEY-BORN DUO Dylan Hales and Ronnie Flynn are the ecstatic force behind The Flower Shop—a reigning East Village institution and clandestine hangout for VIPs in fashion, film, art, music, and everything in between. I catch Hales and Flynn at the vibey bi-level bar early one Thursday evening. They’re gregarious, larger than life characters; we’ve been speaking all of five minutes, and the pair has already been approached by renowned British fashion photographer Ben Watts and models Rachel Hilbert and Kylie Vonnahme–Flower Shop regulars stopping by for a quick hug or friendly yarn.
The bar’s notable clientele stems from Hales and Flynn’s early days on the NYC party scene, but it has grown younger in recent years (Robert Pattinson and Evan Mock are known to swing by). Hales and Flynn, who went to high school together, each came to the States on separate paths. Hales was heading up the Ralph Lauren Cafe in Washington D.C, while Flynn was hosting and promoting parties for some of the world’s most recognisable faces. Yet serendipitously, it was while working on an event together during Miami’s Art Basel, that the pair reconnected–and hatched a plan.
“It was torrentially raining, and we were moving furniture around this ginormous outdoor area, like the size of two football fields. Everything was a total nightmare, but we just rolled our sleeves up,” says Flynn. “It was a bit like, ‘Oh, you’ve got the same kind of integrity, you’re gonna just get in there, no bullshit, and get it done’.”
Hales and Flynn opened The Flower Shop in 2017, a space intended to bridge the gap between restaurant, bar, and club. It feels like an elevated Aussie pub, decked with an eclectic array of paraphernalia; tangled, multi-coloured string lights adorn the back-bar while a framed photograph of Shane Warne hangs above a pool table. While I’m there, a bright red boxing-bag is being installed (just for the night). It’s fun, and despite the slightly intimidating presence of runway models and actors floating throughout the space, The Flower Shop feels warm and welcoming. It’s somewhere you can imagine melting into the mustard leather booths, whiling the night away with a few too many cold brew martinis.
In 2020, the duo extended their expertise to open Little Ways, a ’70s-style bistro that feels like the setting of an intimate dinner party in an arty Soho townhouse. They are also working with Silver Lining Lounge and Loosie’s—two of the city’s busiest late-night attractions.
Across the East River, Jason Scott—the man behind Sydney institutions Shady Pines, The Baxter Inn and the iconic pizza joint Frankie’s, which closed in late 2022—is running one of Brooklyn’s best new hotspots, Mansions. An unassuming dive on the outer fringes of Bushwick, here, natural drops and sudsy bubbles are poured to a soundtrack of deep house music.
It draws a cool crowd of industry people, music people, art people, “people who live in lofts,” Scott explains.
This year, Scott teamed up with Buckingham, Sam Ross (the Aussie bar prodigy behind Attaboy and Temple Bar in the Lower East Side), and Belfast-born Michael McIlroy (a co-owner of the latter), to open Danger Danger, a new wave rock ‘n’ roll bar serving mezcal and Red Bull spritzes. Yes, Red Bull spritzes.
“I wanted to make something that was a little bit more glam than a typical Brooklyn bar, and that when people walk in, they go, ‘Wow, okay, something’s going on here’,” Scott says. “We’ve got zebra print carpets, stained glass parrot chandeliers, and light-up menu boards that change colours in terms of music. There’s just a lot of wacky stuff in there.”
It’s wacky, sure, but there’s a relaxed sense of professionalism that doesn’t go unnoticed. “Like, hey, we’re here to have a good time, but we’re also going to make sure your water glass is topped off,” says Scott. Ross agrees: “There’s just a certain level of generosity, even on the divey side, that filters down to our staff. They feel empowered and go above and beyond.”
AS AN AUSTRALIAN WHO’S lived in New York for just shy of two years, I find it funny to hear that the city’s nightlife wasn’t always as approachable as it is now. “It was ostentatious,” says Buckingham. “And money was the singular currency, which is a pretty low vibe.”
Hales and Flynn make a similar point: “There was a lot of pretentiousness, especially in nightclubs,” says Flynn. “Which is why we thought, we need to have a place where people can go out and they can eat food, they can bring their mum, they can bring their friends, they can have a birthday, they can get loose if they want to, they can have a conversation… a place where everyone’s welcome no matter where they’re from, and that can still be the coolest place in town.”
It’s a hybrid concept, and it’s not uncommon here these days. But perhaps it’s the all-embracing, easygoing mentality among the scene’s Aussie frontrunners that makes it so appealing. Of course, attributing the success of these hospitality pros to their Australian-ness would be reductive. It certainly gives them an edge, and captivating charm, but each brings an individual passion and drive. And in NYC, that kind of spirit truly thrives.
Back at SoSo’s, Buckingham and I have spent much of our time together talking about what it means to live here in NYC.
“This is a big town. And it’s great that Aussies are doing great things. But we’re part of a bigger organism,” he says. “There’s something for everyone here, and everyone’s looking for something. Those two things coexist, and that’s where the magic happens.”