Dining or having a drink before or after a show usually requires foresight – sipping mediocre wine in a theater bar where drinks are an afterthought and food options extend to chips and Pringles is a widely shared experience. At Meraki Arts Bar, a versatile three-storey space that just opened on Oxford Street near Taylor Square, you don’t have that problem.
Together, co-owners Luke Holmes, Margaret Thanos, Kieran Took and Bertie Boekemann have experience in theater and performance, as well as hospitality.
“The problem is, if you have hospitality or arts venues, they’re run by hospitality or arts managers, not both…we’re likely to misunderstand how to manage the other side,” Holmes tells me. Flyer. “That’s why it was so important that between the four of us there were two people with a predominantly art and performance background [Holmes and Thanos] and there are two [Took and Boekemann] who come from a mostly hospitality background, so… it’s an even representation.
The venue has three distinct areas, each occupying one floor. At street level is the Gallery Lounge, a space that showcases a new art exhibit every two weeks, plus the occasional “very welcoming, unobtrusive” live performance, such as Tuesday night drag trivia. The drinks list includes six different cocktails each week. Some of those homemade concoctions include the frozen Matcha Matcha Man (Bacardi Carta Blanca, peach, matchstick, and yuzu) and Who Framed Rhubi Rabbit with gin, rhubarb, blood orange, and lime.
The dimly lit lounge, which is furnished with comfortable brown leather couches, also offers a menu that appeals to the crowd, with dishes such as kingfish ceviche, baked truffle mac’n’cheese and tostadas with roasted vegetables.
“Nothing at this level is ever ticketed and nothing will ever be restricted,” says Holmes. “This is the space where you can treat us like a bar; you can come in, have a great night with some cocktails and some food.
On the first floor is what Holmes describes as a “vaudeville-inspired” space, the Gig Bar, with cabaret-style seating for 50, a red velvet stage backdrop, sprinkles of amber and gold lighting, and a grand piano. Multiple acts are staged each night, ranging from comedy, cabaret, burlesque, drag, improv, poetry and live music. Regular guests include the three-piece house jazz band every Tuesday and stand-up comedy on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A bar at this level is all about serving beer, wine, spirits and mixed drinks quickly.
“It’s the stuff you can get over the counter in minutes at a gig,” says Holmes.
Go to the top level and you’ll see it’s split in two. On one side is the Meraki Main Stage, a 50-seat black-box theater that hosts independent theater productions for three weeks, and on the other is the Green Room, an intimate speakeasy-style bar that opens once the show has ended. at 9:30 pm. The bar is focused on serving well-crafted classic cocktails. From the 30-piece menu, choose from options such as Mai Tai, Long Island Iced Tea, Pina Colada, Whiskey Sour, Old Fashioned, and more.
On all three levels you can order homemade pies – both savory and sweet – and fries with your choice of five sauces: tomato, aioli, pesto, mustard barbecue or hot honey.
“It’s a whole night out under one roof… you can mix and match our three levels,” says Holmes. “Get there by 7 p.m., have a few drinks and a snack before a show, watch whatever show you see, and then it’s your choice where you want to stay and chat and drink and debrief. The point is that you don’t have to create this whole path to have a night out. You can do that within that one building.”
Meraki Arts bar
231 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
0488 225 283
Tues and Wed 6pm to Midnight
Fri & Sat 6pm-3am