Celebrate Australia Day in New York with Food, Beer, Wombats

Tomorrow, January 26, is Australia Day, which marks the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788. While I’ve never been “down under” myself, I’d visit in a heartbeat right now just to escape this exceptionally dreary winter we’re enduring in New York. But absent a business class ticket on Qantas, the next best thing is to check out the festivities at some of the city’s best Australian bars and restaurants, where the beers are big, the meat pies savory, and the servers are a lot friendlier than you’re used to.

The Sunburnt Cow in Alphabet City, Bondi Road on Rivington, and the fancy uptown Sunburnt Calf – which happen to be operated by the “Moo Life Group” – are marking the day with drink and food specials and DJ’s spinning Aussie tunage. Show up for a $20 or $30 happy hour (depending on just how “premium” your tastes are), murder a few pints of Coopers (they don’t really drink Foster’s), and sup on kangaroo sausage and Lamingtons, which are vanilla spongecake squares with strawberry jam, chocolate, and coconut. There’s also a $2 appeal for Queensland flood victims, so cough up a couple of bucks for a worthy cause.

Eight Mile Creek, meanwhile, has a beer and pie tasting (my two favorite things), as well as a special dinner menu and Tyrone Noonan of the Brisbane band George playing classic Australian music downstairs. (I’m pretty sure they’ve moved on from Men at Work, so don’t ask.)

If you’re looking for a mellower scene, take the L train to Williamsburg and head to Wombat on Grand Street, where you can toast the the Sunburnt Country with Australian wines, oysters, and Tetley Tea-marinated hanger steak, all under the loving gaze of George the Wombat (pictured).

Industry Insiders: Heathe St. Clair, Cow Tipping

Charming Australian Heathe St. Clair is the proprietor of Bondi Road, The Sunburnt Cow, and new Upper West Side outpost, The Sunburnt Calf. He has that jovial, Down Under wit and good spirit, which surely helped him develop a name in New York’s unforgiving hospitality industry after moving across the globe to pursue acting at the Atlantic Theater Company. As a struggling actor, he worked at Isabella’s, Box Tree, Monkey Bar, and The Captain. He also ran an uptown restaurant called Maison. The Calf, as St. Clair calls it, has been open since April 1st. Against expectation, it looks like the Upper West Side was fully ready for the influx of rowdy Australians and all-you-can-drink weekend brunches. More on the new joint after the jump.

Backstory: I came here to study drama. I got an agent and I was going out and auditioning and stuff for a while but at one point I just realized I needed to move on from that. Then I studied martial arts; I had a martial arts business for a while. I taught kickboxing which, you know, sort of doesn’t blend well with the bar business. I didn’t do any bar business for a few years, but it’s always sucked me back in. Always. A friend of mine was involved with marketing Paradou in the meat packing district and they needed someone to come in and help with the wine program, so I started consulting on that. I ended up working there for awhile. By then I was really actively seeking a space for the Sunburnt Cow.

On difficulties of doing business: We’re trying to get our air conditioner turned on, which is a major issue in the city. It’s not easy doing business in New York. Everybody is running very, very slowly, even though this is the fastest city in the world. There are three departments involved in getting an air conditioner turned on and nobody wants to give you an answer.

On the UWS: We found a great space: It’s two floors, a really beautiful space. And we’ve tricked it out pretty nicely. I’m hoping it’s going to work out the way we want it to, but you never know in New York. I have been living up here for months now while I’ve been building this place and there’s nowhere to go out up here, unless you’re a college kid. They’ve got some great frat bars, but you don’t see that good downtown music. We’re trying to bring a bit of that downtown vibe up here, by bringing some of our DJs to play music. I used to get drunk up on the Upper West Side when I worked at Isabella’s fifteen years ago.

On the new menu: I didn’t have a lot of money when I first started the The Sunburnt Cow and we were limited by the space. We didn’t have enough money to put a dishwashing station in so we served food on paper plates. Once we made enough money back, we put in another station and had a dishwasher and plates. But in the beginning, we were serving this amazing gourmet food on paper plates. It went over pretty well, but obviously you don’t want to be doing that forever. When we built Bondi, I had a chance to build the kitchen, so I built it around the menu. For this neighborhood, I think we’re right up there, probably at least 8 bucks cheaper than anybody else. If you visited where I grew up in the Outback of Australia, when you went to a pub, your mom was cooking and dad was serving the beers. And I always stay true to that, but we’ve done a little bit more here.

On All-You-Can-Drink brunch: That’s something I’d like to call my idea, but it’s not. I’ve always made my money working in restaurants and bars, but I always tried not to work on Sundays, to hit up a Sunday brunch. I used to go to drag-queen diner Stingy Lulu’s. They did an all you can drink bar with a transvestite show going on Sundays. I thought, Wow this is a great concept. So when I opened The Cow I was like, I’m gonna do that here. It took me awhile to build it up though. I walked around Tompkins Square Park with baskets full of orange hard-boiled eggs that were stamped with the Sun-Burnt Cow logo and glued to our flyer. I did it everyday for a long time. It took me a couple of years to build it up, but now, all three places are pretty packed.

Ratio of Australians to non-Aussies on staff: Everybody’s Australian. Well, from Australia and New Zealand. We’ve got one New Zealander right now. We take New Zealanders, but we want to try and keep it as authentic as we can. I mean, I sponsor a lot of people to come from Australia. We’re always looking for people that want to get involved. If you show the right spark, you get sponsored, and then there’s a chance to get points in the business and that sort of thing. It’s part of the fun. Someone was just saying that everyone was so friendly and that they have good energy. I mean, it’s not the easiest thing. In Australia, you’re gonna get great food, but in general the service is pretty poor. Sometimes it can be quite hard to find good people. I try to find people who have grown up in the industry. We try to create a good work environment which eventually trickles down to the customer. I think that the important part of management is treating your staff well so they treat your customers and each other well.

On The Cow’s namesake: Bessie. I was a little boy and my mom loved animals. My sister is actually a horse dentist. There were always animals that our mom would rescue. We had this cow and one day it wasn’t around and I was told that it got sunburnt. I was maybe 4 or 5 years old. I believed it, but it turns out we actually ate the cow. I didn’t find out for years. Bessie’s calf was called Bruce and that inspired the name for the new restaurant.

Most popular dish at The Calf: I like the grilled crispy chicken dish. I think that’s going to be really popular. I was actually drunk when I thought of that one. I was sitting at the bar and we were brainstorming back and forth. And I just saw this dish. It came to me and I was like, yeah, we’ve got to do that. And it worked out really well. We put a citrus rub on the chicken and it’s grilled crispy and finished in the oven. It’s served over a terrine of garlic, Portobellos, potatoes, endives, and a fennel puree that holds it together. It’s topped with fava beans and fresh grilled corn.

Go-to places: I quite like Little Branch. There’s a jazz sensation there and the drinks are good. My friends just opened up this place next to The Cow called Summit Bar, a cocktail bar. I love going there. I really enjoy Jean Georges, but I’m a pretty low key guy these days.