Earls Juke Joint is a hidden gem situated behind the doors of an original 1950’s butchers shop, “Betta Meats”. From the drapes to the awning, everything has remained the same, except for what’s behind those swinging doors. Once inside, you are instantly thrown from the streets of South King Street to the deep, dirty south of New Orleans. Named after Earl Palmer (an American rhythm and blues drummer), in here you will find the music loud and proud, the walls embellished with photos of blues legends alongside Cajun, Creole, and Caribbean culture; this bar is nothing short of awesome!
So when I got the opportunity to sit down and have a little chinwag with Pasan Wijesena, owner and lead bartender of Earl’s Juke Joint, I almost lost my mind! Those who know me, know my husband and I are fans of this bar, so to get the chance to pick the brains of one of Sydney’s most acclaimed bar gods was pretty nerve wrecking exciting!
BACK IN THE DAY
After a brief stint working at the Oxford Art Factory, Pasan became friends with Jason Scott and Anton Forte (Swillhouse crew). The trio opened up Sydney’s infamous Shady Pines Saloon (where taxidermy and whisky merge into greatness) and somewhat changed the game for Sydney bars. You could say that Sydney’s bar scene was pretty dyer back then. VIP rooms ruled pretty much every drinking hole that Sydney had to offer, bar staff got nothing from their jobs, and there was no love for the small bar scene. Now, thankfully, because of bars like Earls, Shady Pines and Baxter Inn (all bars Pasan has worked in) they have paved the way for a new era of bars here in Sydney that make going for a pre dinner drinks or an after work bevvie much more exciting!
FROM THE CBD TO THE QUIET STREET OF SOUTH KING STREET
Even though Sydney CBD was hella’ ready for a small bar scene, Pasan took a great risk steering away from the bright city lights and heading to the quiet end of Kings Street, Newtown. Even now, it is very rare for any type of bar or restaurant to survive setting up shop on South Kings Street. Many places go out of business quicker than they open… so I asked Pasan ‘what makes Earls so different?’ As expected, Pasan humbly bigs up his team. ‘Even three years after being open, we are always trying to be better at what we do and how we do it. We’ve got a great local and regular clientele, and we get great support from other hospitality staff. I think taking part in comps, winning awards, etc obviously doesn’t hurt, but you have to back it up too, and not rest on your reputation. ‘ And what a rep these guys have. I can honestly say the reason I come back here time and time again is due to the team Pasan has. I have never had a bad experience with them, and to see them enjoying their night on the opposite side of the bar tells me something is working.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
A rum focused Tiki bar in Enmore is Pasan’s next adventure. Named after Dr. Lawrence Jacoby from Twin Peaks, Jacoby will be opening early next year. Coincidental with the whole Tiki movement that seems to be gathering steam worldwide, Pasan and his team have been sitting on this idea for a while. It came to light whilst drinking at Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles. ‘Anything Tiki is always fun! It’s the anthesis to humourless prohibition styled cocktail bar tending with drinks that are still bonafide classics, so what’s not to love?’
Twin Peaks, kitschy fit-outs and drinking rum out of a zombie head, that has my name written all over it… plus it’s local, oh and it has a late license! Nothing about this can be faulted ☺
SPEAKING OF RUM
As you can probably gather by now, I love rum! I love to drink it, I love to make cocktails with it and I love to talk about it! Lucky for me, Pasan also enjoys all things rum 😀
‘El Dorado 12 was one of the first rums I tried that actually made me want to drink rum neat.’ Here is where my fan girl moment set in! El Dorado was also the rum that changed the game for me also. I had been having a pretty hard time drinking rums straight recently, and was very close to throwing in the towel drinking it like that. That is, until I came across El Dorado 12- but you can read about that in another of my posts.
‘What I love about rum is the complexity, the versatility in drinks, the history and culture around it, and its delicious! We should be making more great rum in OZ, given how much sugar cane and molasses we have’. Pasan makes a great point here; Australia should be making more quality rums that incorporate our native flavours, such as Blood lime, Lady Apple and River mint. As nice as spiced Caribbean rums are, we have the resources here to change the rum game. Man, how amazing and unique would those rums be….my mouth is watering just at the thought of it.
TOP THREE COCKTAILS
‘A Daiquiri due to it being so refreshing, delicious and you should be able to get a good one anywhere. Tangy, sweet, it is just such a well-balanced drink. My choice of rum to use in a Daiquiri would have to be Havana 3 year old or Plantation 3 star. Fish House Punch, essentially it’s a rum punch is just delicious- Rum, cognac, peach brandy, lemon and sugar. You put it in a big bowl and go for a swim. And lastly, it would have to be a Pina Colada. That for me is the ultimate, ‘I’m on holiday’ cocktail. You just can’t go wrong with it… even a bad one can ultimately be a good one.’
WORDS OF WISDOM
And like that, we came to the end of our interview. But before I left, Pasan gave me a few words of courage for my rum quest. ‘Don’t be afraid to try new things, a tiki cocktail is a fun and easy way to get into drinking rum, and then experiment with rum in classic drinks e.g. a rum negroni (A right hand), a rum old fashioned etc. Premium stuff is also a lot more accessible than premium whiskeys for example, so you can try some really amazing liquid at a fraction of the price of similar aged whiskeys.’
Thanks again Pasan for an awesome chat and for the umpteen cocktails you made me. To those who have not checked out Earls Juke Joint, please do yourself a favour and go asap. The place is faultless as is the team that work there.