With restrictions on SA bars easing faster than previously thought, discover some of Adelaide’s best themed bars to help plan your post-social distancing comeback. (Image source: Sezen Bakan)
By Sezen Bakan |@sezenbakan
While most people will be planning celebratory post-social distancing drinks at the local pub (and rightly so), Adelaide also has several unique bars created by passionate and diverse communities that’ll be needing some support as well.
Let me take you on a journey through my last night out in 2019, so you can start planning your next one.
Bibliotheca Bar & Book Exchange
Heading towards King William Street on Hindley Street, the late-afternoon sun shines down on people going home from a hard day of work or an expensive day of shopping. Just before you reach the end of the street, a splash of bright colours catches the eye and draws you into an alley.
It’s a large mural depicting a woman with blue-purple hair, just a few steps down from which, hiding behind a simple grey façade, stands Bibliotheca Bar & Book Exchange.
Even when it’s full daylight outside, and all the lights inside are on, the bar is still dim. The black-painted walls and dark-wooded furnishings add to an atmosphere that somehow feels intimate and cosy rather than gloomy. A mural depicting a girl reading a book takes up one wall. Lime-green Bankers lamps with brass stems dot the tables and bar top, reminiscent of old-fashioned libraries most people have only ever seen on TV. As it turns out, that was exactly the intention.
“That’s the perfect reading lamp, and that’s probably the one that associates with libraries for me. So basically, the whole interior was planned around this lamp,” Marina Tazhdynova explains.
Marina created Bibliotheca Bar & Book exchange with her husband Roman Tazhdynov around six years ago after they emigrated from Moscow and found Adelaide’s nightlife lacking.
“[When we first arrived] I was like ‘Okay, let’s go out for drinks! Where’s the cocktail bars?’ and there’s none.” Marina said.
“There was seriously not a single one at that time…I just realised, I just want a good margarita or a good Manhattan, and there’s not a place where I can actually get it.”
Once they decided they wanted to open a bar, the husband and wife duo realised they needed a theme.
“If a person in Russia at a bar sits and reads a book, no one would come to him and distract. Up here, there’s been a few times…I would sit there, read a book and have someone hitting on me all the time, like, ‘Hey, you feel really lonely, do you wanna join us?’” she said.
Marina recalls having to constantly assure people that she was “feeling absolutely amazing”.
So, at Bibliotheca “if you want to speak to the bartender, you sit at the bar. If you want to read, you just sit and read”.
The couple then decided to take the idea further and build a “library” in the bar, which mainly consists of a set of floor-to-ceiling shelves tucked into a corner, crammed full of a huge variety of books with contents ranging from law, to popular fiction, to a picture book full of cute animals paired with truly inventive swear words.
Visitors can pick something to read while they drink, but they can also take a book home – as long as they leave another one in its place.
It’s not just the décor that’s book-themed – the first few pages of the cocktail book consist solely of cocktails inspired by famous novels, each specially designed by Marina, Roman and their bartenders in a process that takes around six months.
“All of our book cocktails, they’re all thought of in terms of ingredients as well,” Marina said.
“For example, if that’s the Don Quixote drink, it has to have Spanish roots. So, we’ll have Tempranillo wine in this cocktail because it’s taste-based in Spain.”
Bibliotheca doesn’t only cater to book-lovers. The next several pages of the cocktail book offer classic and modern cocktails, and the bar’s shelves are laden with wines, gins and whiskeys.
But first-timers often can’t look past the book-based drinks, such as the Alice in Wonderland-themed ‘Drink Me’, which consists of cherry sake, pineapple, and duck fat rum.
And, yes, – this was confirmed with the bartender – that last ingredient is literally rum infused with duck fat. The drink is pre-made, served in an old-fashioned brown glass medicine bottle with a cookie decorated with the words ‘Eat Me’.
The drink tastes citrusy, but also strongly of rum and thankfully, you can’t taste anything overwhelmingly duck-y.
The Sorcerer’s Bar
If you manage to resist the urge to try all the book-themed cocktails, head back up Hindley Street away from King William Street, and another side street will present itself, one home to The Sorcerer’s Bar.
From the outside, it doesn’t look too different from Bibliotheca. An open door, a large open window with attached bar and stools inside to accommodate people-watching enthusiasts. But a step inside, and one large difference becomes abundantly clear.
This place is tiny. Seriously. To walk out the width and length of the entire area would take a person maximum of five steps each way. But rather than trying to make the space feel bigger, the bar’s decor seems to lean into the borderline claustrophobia-inducing size.
Dim lighting, overly-patterned dark wallpaper heavy with framed pictures, and shelves full of random knickknacks seem to bring the walls even further in.
It’s not hard to believe Than Rattanakosit – who co-owns the bar with his sister Thira – when he says only fifteen customers can fit inside.
“There’s a line up every week… I mean, some people come back later, and that works out for them, it’s just pretty much luck really,” he said.
The siblings leased this space spontaneously in 2018 when it became available because they couldn’t pass up “such a good opportunity”. Then they needed to decide what to do with it.
“We sat down together to see what would bring people to such a small bar. We believed that if we didn’t really have anything behind it, we might just be an average bar that might be busy maybe the first month or so.”
Their snap decision paid off, and although they only opened in 2019, the duo is already receiving requests to open similar small bars in Melbourne and Sydney.
Than credits his sister with coming up with the theme behind The Sorcerer’s Bar, which he describes as a combination of wizardry and general fantasy.
The concept was partially inspired by cultural phenomena such as by Harry Potter and Sabrina the Teenage Witch while remaining unspecific enough to remain accessible to the average bar-goer – and to avoid copyright infringement.
That being said, the drinks list will definitely appeal to Harry Potter fans, with names including The Defeated Hallows and Half-Blood Sangria (served in a goblet).
And if you’re not a fan of the fantasy theme but want to try something different, The Sorcerer’s Bar still has you covered with three German beers not available anywhere else in Adelaide.
But, again, a first-timer usually can’t help going for a more theatrical drink. The popular Sorcerer’s Gin puts on quite a show with mist and a change of colour from deep plum purple to a lighter violet/pink. It makes a great investment for your Instagram feed.
The night is perfectly capped off by a stroll back down Hindley Street to Rundle Street, where a bright pink neon sign in the shape of an umbrella lures you down yet another alleyway into Mary’s Poppin.
As a self-described “push against the trend of hip small bars”, the prominently-LGBTQI establishment is everything the prior two bars are not – loud, energetic and in your face. One area has a mirrored ceiling, while the other has two giant disco balls hanging on either side of an even bigger chandelier. Framed pictures of iconic moments in pop culture adorn the barbie-pink walls.
Mary’s showcases a mixture of local and imported talent, including former Ru Paul’s Drag Race contestant Miz Cracker – whose show was basically a masterclass on female empowerment set to a soundtrack of Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and The Little Mermaid.
The crowd is filled with the likes of teens with brightly-dyed neon hair, serious-looking balding men in business suits, a sweet mother, father and son who stop dancing long enough to ask to have their picture taken, and everyone in between. They all spend the time between shows marvelling at the core strength of a young man pole-dancing intensely to Taylor Swift, who pauses only to air-kiss the drag queens hurrying by in a flurry of feathers, sequins, high heels and even higher hair.
These bars are just a select few of Adelaide’s nightlife offerings. While it’s not safe to crowd these businesses just yet, help keep Adelaide’s bar scene interesting by keeping these sorts of establishments in mind when going out again.
This article was originally written way back in 2019, long before COVID-19 put an indefinite pause on everyone’s social life. Bibliotheca Bar & Book Exchange and The Sorcerer’s Bar have re-opened, but Mary’s Poppin is still temporarily closed.