Entering The Workers is something akin to approaching a secret Masonic Temple. You pass under a nondescript doorway flanked by wrought iron lamps and travel up a narrow timber staircase that opens out into a large hall. Dark timber beams run overhead and exposed brick walls are plastered with graffitied political slogans and artfully crumbling concrete. Giant pictures of Labour party greats smile down on patrons and give the impression that the building Australian workers come “home” to has been loved by generations of locals. And, of course, it has.
The Darling Street home of The Workers was a trades and labour hall in the 1890s and is steeped in Labour Party history. Conscious of its place in the narrative of the hard-working, straight-talking, blue collar Party, everything at The Workers comes with a cheeky aside. The menu cries, “Viva La Tacos!” and guarantees the bartenders will “whet your whistle.” Indeed, The Workers satisfies at both the bar and in the Canteen, aka the kitchen.
Following a stellar opening by former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, who was as irreverent and down-to-earth as an old school politician should be, we sampled a variety of sliders, including Alaskan crab cakes with yellow pepper, preserved lemon and caper mayo, crispy buttermilk fried chicken wings and the show-stopping “mini mac” which is just like its big brother, only cooler. All the food has a definite Mexican twist, with enough spice to keep things interesting but not enough to see you grab your glass. You’ll be keen to reach for a drink for other reasons though; The Workers’ quality wines hail from Australia, France and Italy and the bartenders mix up drinks inspired by such diverse pop culture icons as Rudolph Valentino, Carrie Bradshaw, The Bronx (the Zoo, not the Borough). Like any working man’s watering hole, beer is on the menu in a big way, and patrons will find a vast array of local and international labels bottled and on tap.
A DJ mixes trendy house tunes behind the bar and patrons can sit at communal tables down the centre of the room or in the cosier booths that run around the perimeter. Opening night saw The Whitlams’ Tim Freedman woo the crowd and The Workers promises regular live gigs to keep the plebs entertained. Venturing through a wall of foliage takes you to a funky astro-turfed open air balcony, strung with coloured lights and candy-coloured garden furniture. For patrons looking for a quieter, more intimate place to chill out, a series of “private” rooms are fitted out in a style reminiscent of an office of a ‘60s Prime Minister, all tartan carpet and distressed leather armchairs.
Down the trendy, restaurant- laden of Balmain, it’s refreshing to find a bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you’re a local, we can see The Workers becoming your regular watering hole. Hell, even if you’re not, you’re guaranteed to feel right at home.
Read more about The Workers here