Paddington’s beloved watering-hole, The Unicorn, has been given a new lease on life and is looking forward to becoming your new favourite old pub.
Jake Smyth has a lot of love for The Unicorn. When the iconic pub he used to drive past as a kid came up for lease, he got together some friends and jumped right in to renovating it. These friends just happened to be Sydney hospitality leaders Kenny Graham – Jake’s partner in hugely successful burger bar Mary’s; Elvis Abrahanowicz of Surry Hills’ legendary Porteño; and Young Henrys brewer Oscar McMahon.
After a few rough years, The Unicorn was in desperate need of some love. Jake and Kenny started Mary’s when Newtown was still up and coming, and with Paddington’s downturn, they naturally gravitated towards the struggling area – low rent created the perfect environment for experimentation.
Inspired by their favourite haunts, the team gave the pub a new lease on life, restoring some of the pub’s Art Deco details and recruiting artist Michael Whooley to paint Australiana-themed murals that tread just the right line between tribute and nostalgia.
Once renovated, The Unicorn revealed itself to be clean, lovely and aesthetically pleasing – exactly what Jake didn’t want. So he christened the new fitout by pouring a beer on the floor. He’s gradually come to peace with the fact that none of the great old pubs started with their rustic charm, although he’s still not averse to flicking red wine at the ceiling occasionally. “A lot of places that try to capture a moment in time age really quickly,” Jake mused, “for places that are happy to be who they are, their punters will decide what they become.” He wants his staff to be able to come back in 20 years’ time and be able to tell stories about the marks on the walls and the dings in the bar, he wants to create somewhere comfortable and relaxed that feels like home.
It’s all in the pursuit of a classic pub experience, and Chef, Richard Learmouth, of Pendolino is the man charged with dishing up protein and veg, prepared with respect for high-quality produce. Choose from the daily steak that’ll only set you back $20, the big steak if you’re really hungry or the fancy steak, if you’re feeling that little bit special. You’ll be able to sample the best cuts of the day, perhaps a rump steak from Gippsland’s O’Connor, or a rib-eye from Rangers Valley, accompanied by Mary’s famous mash and gravy. Pork comes from Bangalow, served with top-of-the-market vegetables. The Unicorn also offers ‘the best chicken schnitzel you’ll ever eat’ – juicy chicken on the bone sourced from the guys’ friends at Holmbrae.
Bringing west side vibes to the eastern suburbs has resulted in Paddingtonites and Newtownians mingling together – “it’s not polo shirts and punk rock anymore”, said Jake. There’s no judgement, no pretentious ingredients and a solid beer selection. Oscar naturally had a hand in what’s pouring, but the ultimate criteria was ‘hyperdrinkability’. An all-Aussie selection runs the full scale from XXXX Gold and VB on tap through to craft offerings from Young Henrys. The fridges may be full of tinnies, but you’ll still be able to get a decent drop of Australian wine.
Jake’s aim is a simple one, to “provide a great local pub, and hopefully get a smile as people pass through the doors.” Not afraid of ageing, The Unicorn’s looking forward to becoming your favourite old pub.
Words by Tula Wynyard