The bar shaking up Sydney’s pub heartland: The Workers, Balmain


1/292 Darling Street, Balmain, Sydney
02 9318 1547

By Amy Spanton

If you’ve been to Balmain recently, you’ll know that the blue collar crowd that once filled the terraced streets is merely a memory. This ritzy postcode with its sweeping city views is more ristretto than Nescafe but some of the vestiges of its proud working class roots are still on show. Mostly with its historic pubs (of which there are many!) and now, thanks to the Riversdale Group (the fellas behind Lo-Fi in Darlinghurst and more recently The Marlborough in Newtown), with a small bar called The Workers on Darling Street.

This venue pays homage to Balmain’s Labor Party heritage as it was once home to the city’s first Labour Electorate League. And in an effort to really drum home the political roots, this watering hole was officially opened by former Aussie PM Bob Hawke with Whitlams front man, Tim Freedman, providing the soundtrack for the night.


A man of many talents, Paddy Coughlin (Riversdale Group CEO), was behind the majority of the venue design. He really wanted to make a statement, with a mish-mash of colour and design. The venue really takes on the Alice in Wonderland “Down the Rabbit Hole” fantasy, walking up a bland staircase, which then opens up into an expanse of bright flashes of neon and fluoro, Louis the XII style furniture.

Since opening in September last year, The Workers has gone from strength to strength. Their on-trend boutique small bar has struck a chord with locals who are finding it a refreshing change from the plethora of local pubs. According to bar manager, Benjamin Johnson, “sales in cocktails, top shelf wine and unique craft beers and ciders have gone through the roof and people are seeing us as there point of difference for the night.”

But educating the local populace has taken time. The venue once housed an “end of the line” nightclub called The Attic. “It had the hallmarks of something that was cool 10 years ago, but had become a place to meet your future wife/husband at 3am,” said Johnson. People still wonder where the dance floor is but they are coming around to the DJs and “our ability to make them weak at the knees via a shake and double strain.”

Johnson is in charge of the drinks side of things. He has been working with the Riversdale Group for several years both at Lo-Fi and The Standard before moving on to managing The Workers. Of the drinks program (which is all about foams, bitters and spices right now), Johnson says: “The idea was to become the ‘go to’ venue in this area for top quality cocktails, left-of-centre tap beer offerings and an unrivalled back bar.”

On the food front, the menu is Mexicana and Americana. You can get knee-deep in tacos with four for $20. Try the The Pulled Porky Pig of slow cooked pork shoulder, red slaw, pico de pina asado and fresh coriander. On the American side of the border, try something from The Slider Diaries such as The Quack with pulled duck, cabbage, spring onion salad and smoky BBQ sauce.

So, if you’re in Sydney’s Inner West and you’ve had enough of the café-lined streets then head upstairs to The Workers for a slider, a cocktail and a wee bit of Aussie political history. Let’s face it, you gotta enjoy a drink with old Hawkey looking over your shoulder.

Q&A with Bar Manager Ben Johnson

What do you think has been the key to the bar’s longevity?

I think the key to the longevity of this bar will be the precedence it sets for top quality drinks and good times in the area. We have a weeks worth of offerings to the community, headlined by our free live music on a Thursday night, the “Red Door Sets” with a series of events planned in the future as part of our “Sunday Funday” currently being put in to motion.

What’s the history behind the venue?

The Workers is nod to the blue-collar, working class history of the area and then inside there are juxtaposed splashes of Labor history such as the three larger than life portraits of Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Neville Wran. There are also small collages of labour moments found in an area colloquially known as “The Upper House”. This area derives it’s name from the politically orientated discussions that happen during the hours of 12-3am when the DiCKS boys are watching an EPL game and sucking down a few post work beers.

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