The Newport Arms is a cornerstone of Sydney life.
It has been a venue of deaths mourned and marriages toasted. Many inhabitants of Sydney had their first drink on its grounds. Weekend afternoons at “the Newy” are as treasured as a swim at Manly or Bondi; as much a rite of passage as your first sight of the bats in the Botanical Gardens.
Then last year it was bought by Justin Hemmes. He dropped the Arms, rebranding it simply as The Newport, and has big plans for the site over the next few years, with the delayed opening of stage one finally kicking off over Easter.
Hemmes, the CEO of Merivale, has driven a reinvention of Sydney food and drink culture. Some of his restaurants – notably est. and Mr Wong’s – are the compulsory destinations for food enthusiasts. And when it comes to bars, locations like The Beresford, Tank Stream Bar, the Coogee Pavillion, The Paddington, Hotel CBD and Palmer & Co. are both the haunts of locals and the settings for storied nights in Australia’s global city.
Even with that record, The Newport – as it’s been rebranded, the Arms has been dropped – about an hour’s drive north of the city at the far reaches of Sydney’s northern beaches, was a surprise buy for Hemmes. Naturally, people have been curious about what might become of the place.
The venue comfortably fits a thousand people and its sprawling outdoor area is the embodiment of a belief in the forgiving year-round weather conditions that are Sydney’s best-kept secret. Here’s what it was like when we visited last week.
The executive summary: It’s fresh, interesting, and still great for a weekend afternoon with family or friends.
But the food is expensive for outside Sydney with no table service and ordering is confusing.
There’s a lot of queuing if your group wants different things to eat – you need to ask for a pizza a short walk away from where you find the seafood. That means that if you want chicken, she wants fish, the kids want pizza and juice, and you want to get beers too, you have to visit five different locations around the pub. Luckily, the views are great while you wait.
Here is the menu, which includes a map. There's Vinnies, the Kiosk, the Juice Bar, The Shack, and the Seafood Market. Normally, you only need a map in a pub if you're a spy and a foreign agent is trying to kill you. But I just want some chicken.
Here's a panoramic view, a 180-degree shot taken from the top of the grounds. I've marked this photo up in the next slide to show where you order all the different types of food.
I am not an anxious person but trying to figure out how to get chicken and a decent salad is very confusing. Let's keep going.
And what fantastic chicken it is. It's worth the hour's drive and the minor confusion over where to order. This is great chicken with lettuce and basic sauces. If Sydney had a monarch, this is what they would eat: tender, juicy, lots of delicate skin, served with pita bread. A perfect 10.
And the excellent salad. This is half the Hot Smoked King Salmon Salad and half the organic quinoa and raw zucchini. I did not eat much of this but am assured it was very good.
And then there's the kids' burger, which passes the key test of being able to feed an adult who doesn't want to stump up the $20 for a full main but is still peckish. We all agreed the food was outstanding, even if it was a bit confusing to order it. Justin Hemmes says this is part of his 'choose your own adventure' theme for the pub.
Here's the menu at one of the food ordering stations. While the food is good, you can't miss that it's a little pricey for an hour's drive out of the city. Let's look around though, because there's lots left to look at...
Dogs are welcome. The Newy could easily be overtaken by blow-ins like us from the city, but the locals and their labradors are patrolling to keep manners on everybody.
Just in case there was any question about whether dogs really are welcome, there are two big dog bowls next to the water bubbler. Behind the water bubbler is the old marquee, which is now...
... a back-lit bar with a marble counter. This the the old wooden marquee in the middle of the grounds, and it has had a major upgrade. On the other side is...
... a pizza bar. But note, in an increasingly familiar pattern, it is not the kind of bar where you can order both food AND beverages.
Over nearby is the 'Seafood Market'. Everything looks fresh. Maybe next time - chicken was the priority today.
The familiar views over the water are still there. It was quiet when we visited, as it was a Thursday afternoon.
Here's something new - in fact, a breathtaking addition: this beautiful, long and comfortable table. This could be a great spot for a long lunch with friends or family.
Back up to the bar, where the staff were busy, but welcoming and clearly having fun as they figured out the whole new set-up.
Now we're at what is probably the biggest change: this is the old bar and food counter, but it has been changed into 'the gymnasium', basically a big space for playing games, either for families or among adults feeling competitive after a few reds. There's a firm set of rules.
And table tennis, natch. In the background you can see what used to be the old kids' playground. It was unclear how this space was going to be used in the future.
This is a great idea, but there's probably some NSW law which means you cannot stand on it after midday, or if you have had a conversation with someone who has consumed alcohol in the past week.
Here's the main bar, which has plenty of beers on tap - and, crucially, frozen margaritas to take the edge off those Sunday afternoons when you're at a spectacular venue with all your mates on a hot Sydney summer's day.
A close up of one of the beer tap banks. Hemmes does not serve some Australian beers like VB at his bars, after some demands from Carlton United Breweries decades ago. He started dealing with Lion Nathan (now Lion) instead, and still stands by them as his preferred supplier because of their customer service.
Business Insider was there unannounced and paid for all food and beverages during the visit.
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