To know of Shady Pines is to be part of Shady Pines. Welcome to the bar that keeps everyone coming back.
Shady Pines Saloon has achieved something very few bars manage: longevity, and cult status.
There’s no promotion. No Facebook page. No PR agency. No guest lists. In fact, there’s hardly any signage outside at all. All you have to guide you to the right alley is the smartphone in your hand or a helpful friend. A bouncer (and on the weekends, a line) is the only indication that something special lies this way.
Once inside, however, it’s a completely different story.
You’ll find yourself smack bang in the middle of a mid western saloon. Wine barrels substitute for tables, and taxidermy hangs from every available space. Seriously. Glassy-eyed moose, deer, bison, and even fish will watch you down your whiskey. Matched with old-timey portraits of bearded men and women (just kidding), and a country soundtrack, and you’ll find your walk’s been replaced by a swagger.
Shady Pines Saloon has gotten a bit of a rep for being a breeding ground of quality bartenders. Not only has the Swilhouse Group gone on to open two more incredibly successful bars (The Baxter Inn and Frankie’s Pizza), but ex-bartenders of the group have opened up their own highly respected bars as well (Tio’s, Earl’s Juke Joint, and – most recently – Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern). You’ve probably already experienced some of that Swillhouse hospitality.
They’re also generally credited for starting Sydney’s obsession with anything [insert alcohol of choice here] and freshly pressed apple juice, FYI.
Anton Forte and Jason Scott are the owners of the Swilhouse Group, and are basically responsible for elevating the Sydney drinking scene to the next level. I caught up with Jason to pick his brain on the hospitality.
Shady Pines Saloon has reached a kind of cult status with Sydney drinkers. What do you think a bar needs in order to have staying power in Sydney?
Jason: I think that's the end question for every prospective or current bar owner in the world! In my opinion, for a bar to have staying power in today's culture, a bar needs to have somewhat of a classic feel, a sense of history, a sense that things have taken place in this space, and that they will continue to take place here. Add to that friendly service and a commitment to a fun, safe environment and I think it’s hard to go wrong. Having great quality booze to drink is not essential, but when it doesn't really cost any more to have quality it seems a little silly not to. The punters certainly appreciate it, and the staff enjoy serving it.
f: What are the biggest changes to Shady Pines Saloon since you opened in 2010?
J: We seem to be always buying more taxidermy and old timber! And the quality of beer imports has skyrocketed so that’s been a great addition. Apart from that, we haven't changed too much, just a little bigger and better in whatever we could.
f: Are there any changes in the horizon for Shady Pines Saloon?
J: We'd love to add a more substantial food offering in keeping with our standards, just trying to figure out if - and how - it can work. Apart from that, keep moving forward on the live country music offering.
f: Where did the inspiration for the taxidermy-laden, deep South American theme come from?
J: I spent a few years in the States so the concept was always a fun one. Plus, we needed something to go with the country music!
f: Speaking of, where did you source all the taxidermy?
J: Mostly auctions and eBay, but a few pieces fell into our laps.
f: You guys are known for serving freshly squeezed apple juice at your bars. Where did this originate?
J: Anton was working at Siglo in Melbourne and they were doing it there. It seemed to make a lot of sense. Commercial apple juice is terrible.
f: What drink are you most likely to have at the end of a shift?
J: Well nothing any more as the NSW Government has made it illegal to have a drink after work for hospitality workers.
f: What do you think of the huge number of American themed bars and diners popping up around Sydney?
J: The current trend is towards that worldwide. To be fair, besides English/Irish pubs (and Aussie of course, but we have pretty much ruined them all), no other country has that strong a bar identity. The US has been doing a great job of making fun hospitality venues for many decades.
f: What’s your favourite hospitality trend?
J: I like how goofy friendliness seems to be making a welcome comeback, rather than aloof disinterest.
f: Do you have plans for future venues, either in Sydney or other cities?
J: Nothing on the drawing board yet. (Ed’s note: we can hope!)
f: Can you still order in food to the bar?
J: Of course. If someone wants to bring their own food we have no issues.
Address: 4/256 Crown St, Darlinghurst
Opening hours: Daily 4pm–12am