Randwick's newest cocktail and eatery has opened, bringing a much-needed touch of the small bar scene to the area. This Is Bat Country pays homage to all things Hunter S. Thompson and serves up a little ‘70s nostalgia with it.
There’s an iconic moment in the opening scene of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where Raoul Duke’s bright red convertible screeches to a halt on the side of the desert, his companion Dr Gonzo wanting to pick up a hitchhiker.
A drug-addled Duke stares around. “We can’t stop here,” he cries. “This is bat country!”
If it’s been a few years since you last watched Fear and Loathing, or if your knowledge of Hunter S. Thompson (the original book’s author) is that he’s the really high guy Johnny Depp once played (not quite true), then Collin Perillo will be more than happy to enlighten you.
Who's Collin Perillo? He's the man who dedicated his first bar, This Is Bat Country, to the great American author. He should know a thing or two about Hunter, after all.
That bar is This Is Bat Country, the newest drinking addition to Randwick. It takes more inspiration from than just a clever line in a novel. “Everything you see, hear and taste is a wink or a nod to Hunter S. Thompson,” says Collin. Trying to spot and correctly identify every reference is like a thinking man’s Where’s Wally. There are bike chains and headlights (a homage to Hunter’s Hell’s Angels novel) hanging from the corrugated iron roof (The Rum Diary) and a flowered cock stands incongruously behind the bar (just guess). A pair of deer antlers hanging above the table is a nod to Hunter’s time in Colorado, but it’s taxidermy done with finesse. Like Collin says, this is ‘winks and nods’, not full on in-your-face ‘70s nostalgia.
What you need to know before you stop in Bat Country.
The vibe: Daytime chilled, evening buzzy. It's aching with nostalgia.
Ideal for: Catch up drinks and dinner.
Bartender's Choice: Matilda May Cocktail: Calle 23 Tequila, Sweet Vermouth, Lemon and Grenadine ($16).
Try the... "Fo Boys!" Free range BBQ chicken or charred field mushroom with eggplant relish, served on a crusty roll with Dijon aioli, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle and Spanish onion ($15.5). Hot sauce optional.
By the way... Bat Country is proof that you can judge a bar by it's bathrooms. Check them out and tell us we're wrong.
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Hunter was known for two things: his works and his love of excess. “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me,” he’s often quoted as saying, so therefore careful consideration was taken when choosing the liquor. Hunter’s tipple of choice was a morning milk glass of Chivas Whiskey, although his works often feature a throw to Wild Turkey bourbon, so you’ll find both behind the bar, or possibly in your Junkie George Fizz.
”I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”
That’s right, the cocktails are in on this theme, either as yet more references or as original ‘30s classics that the man himself might have loved. Look out for the Matilda May Cocktail, created by and named after Collin’s wife. It might be pink and served in a traditional martini glass, but it’s rewriting the rules of what it means to be a ‘girly’ drink. It’s a complex mix of Calle 23 Tequila, Sweet Vermouth, lemon and grenadine (made in-house) that goes down beautifully on a sunny afternoon but that dudes won’t be embarrassed to drink.
Collin has the heavyweight cocktail experience behind him from long stints in two of London’s most renowned clubs: Milk & Honey and Mahiki (the one where Prince Harry is papped on a regular basis). He opened This Is Bat Country three days before Christmas (2013) with fellow owners Tim Dengate (head chef) and Aidan Morrison (head barista) – and they haven’t closed since.
Locals can swing by at 7am for their morning coffee and breakfast, served till 2.30pm everyday. The breakfast menu has a few varieties on your traditional bacon-and-eggs or muesli, but our pick is the baked peaches and fresh berries with honeyed yoghurt and toasted seeds. Come lunch and dinner and the food takes a gourmet twist on rustic Australiana, with steak sandwiches served with a porcini glaze and crusty rolls of pulled chicken with BBQ spices or chargrilled field mushrooms.
If nothing else, you have to pay a visit to the bathrooms, where vintage ‘70s Rolling Stone articles (some penned by Hunter himself) line the walls, with articles cleverly placed at head height based on the amount of time you might, er, need. Just outside in the courtyard is a spectacularly out-of-place-looking vintage vanity, nicked by Collin from a hotel that was being torn apart. It’s a very Hunter S. Thompson thing to do although, let’s face it, if he were still around he’d be the one doing the tearing.
Randwick might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of Sydney’s top quality small bars. It doesn’t quite have the oomph of the city or Surry Hills, but Bat Country might just be the start of a new wave heading its way.
Yes, this is Bat Country. And you definitely want to stop here.
Address: 32 St Paul’s St, Randwick
Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 7am - late, Sunday 7am - 10pm