The Bistrothèque interior. Photography: Parker Blain

WHEN I MOVED from New York to Sydney in 2018, one of the first things I noticed was the eerie lack of bars and restaurants that were open late. If you wanted a glass of wine after 11pm, it was best to go home and crack a bottle; meanwhile a burger and fries was best sourced from McDonalds—and that was if you could find a 24 hour outpost. Gradually, I adjusted—just like everyone else who, thanks to the lockout laws, became accustomed to ‘last drinks’ being called way before midnight. But every time a friend visited, I was reminded of how peculiar our lack of nightlife in the centre of the city really was. 

Finally, that’s changing. Following the 2021 scrapping of lockout laws, a handful of Sydney restauranteurs and bar owners have extended their opening hours. The response has been as expected. Now, some of the city’s coolest spots are the places that offer drinks, snacks and live entertainment well after the clock strikes 12. 

On the Bistrothèque menu: Heirloom tomatoes, fennel, capers, green olive and mustard oil. Photography: Parker Blain

One such venue is Bistrothèque inside Darlinghurst’s historic The Strand hotel, which reopened in late September following a refurbishment that transformed the pub’s main bar into a “a wine-bar-meets-French-bistro”, live jazz and all. 

“It’s a late might spot that’s as casual as it is mysterious,” says creative culinary director Clayton Wells. Wells, who is known for spearheading some of Sydney’s best contemporary restaurants—Mod Dining, Momofuku Seiōbo Sydney and Automata among them—has worked in close collaboration with Bistrothèque’s head chef Leigh McDivitt to develop a menu that fuses French classics like steak frites with experimental dishes like roasted whole duck, prune, wild oregano and liquorice. The latter is available on the restaurant’s late night menu, which is served until the restaurant closes at 3am. 

“If I was to pick one dish to try at Bistrothèque, I’d recommend the whole roasted yellow belly flounder with piment d’espelette and curry leaves. It’s indulgent and rich, so I’d pair it with a bottle of our 2022 Bobar Viognier, Yarra Valley VIC,” recommends Wells. The French onion soup, which is served with an puffy en croute cupping the bowl for dipping, is also delicious. 

Head chef Leigh McDivitt with creative culinary director Clayton Wells. Photography: Parker Blain

On Wednesdays and Fridays there’s live jazz, while every Saturday from 9:30pm until late, The Bistrothèque Soul Quartet, whereby a rotating case of some of the city’s favourite instrument slingers take over. The music and entertainment is curated by hospo veteran turned creative director Ed Loveday of Studio AM:PM.

When reimagining the new Strand, Wells felt strongly about the venue hosting late night sessions such as this. “It’s important to be able to go somewhere that bridges the gap between evening and late night but still offers great food and drinks, he says. “Darlinghurst and William Street in particular are in the thick of where the culinary and late night revival is happening. We want people to think of us when the night isn’t yet over and you’re looking for something to do.” 

Plating up in the restaurant. Photography: Natalie Jurrjens

Bistrothèque isn’t the only Strand space that’s had a facelift. The hotel rooftop has been transformed into a sun-soaked setting with plenty of couches—the type of space you want to relax with a cocktail—designed by the team of experts at Maybe Sammy—as you slip from work into your evening. 

And if you do find yourself downstairs eating frites and sipping on wine until the early moring, there’s always the option to stay upstairs at the Strand Hotel. 

“The challenge exists in ensuring that it’s a culinary concept that is missing in the area,” says Wells of his role as the creative culinary director at Public, the group that owns The Strand. Needless to say, this multi-layered day-to-late-night haunt has achieved precisely that. 


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