Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll of Applejack Hospitality, the folks behind two of the year’s stand-out small bars - Bondi Hardware and The Botanist - have expanded into the underrated suburb of Neutral Bay with SoCal, tucked away at the top of Young Street right off Military Road.
SoCal captures a chunk of modern Americana with a bright, vibrant décor to slide along with its ‘Southern Californian meets Sydney’s North Shore’ theme quite well. The outdoor area is dressed up with sightly greenery and a white open-air pergola wrapped in fairy lights, invoking nifty salty-aired, beach-side scenes that speak volumes for the work of designers Luchetti Krelle (Momofuku Seiobo, Hinky Dinks, and Sake).
Inside is a neat display of shiny benches, tables, and cushioned areas for casual hang-outs, balancing a homely vibe with a stylish nightlife vibe. The bar is simple and elegant, stocked full of drinks with a Golden State sensibility.
It’s been awhile since I’ve flipped open a giant can of Pacifico or Pabst Blue Ribbon, which were all served up alongside local brews and some deliciously smooth cocktails. The cocktail list is impressive, long, and tempts numerous re-visits, especially with names like the Joseph Blue Pulaski ($17) which I expect to be just as endearing as the drink’s timeless namesake. Tequila is also heavily represented here, with 12 brands of on offer, and many of the cocktails infused with each.
Music-wise, the expected Americana surf-rock wasn’t really too present behind the DJ booth, betraying the retro SoCal theme a bit and making way for laid-back hip-hop and trendy beats instead; a more modern L.A scene.
The dainty food on offer was a special treat, paying homage to Southern California’s proximity to the Mexican border with a blend of Mexican and seafood fare to really drive the theme home. Mixed-bean quesadillas, Crab and sopressada empanadas, SoCal chilli dogs, and Chicken skewers on rice with sauce Mole, were all served throughout the night and were each frenzy-inducing samples that had me actively pursuing food like a greedy-eyed vulture. Head chef Zac Smart (formerly from Steele Bar & Grill) has whipped up some of the best in-theme bar food in Sydney and stands to make his work a big reason for SoCal’s inevitable success.