NEWCASTLE'S small bar scene continues to grow with the opening of Saints.
Predominantly celebrating gin, Saints is located on King Street where Japanese restaurant and bar Kitami operated for several years before closing in March.
Saints is a homecoming of sorts for the venue's new owner, Jackson Dunlap.
"I was 18 when I became the bar manager at Kitami, so I've been managing bars ever since, but this was the first one," Dunlap says. "It's a space that I've always loved and I know it like the back of my hand. I know every dent in the wall - some of which I've made myself!"
Dunlap and co-owner Amara Zenteno have spent the past six months working on the venue, building new booth seating (which Zenteno, a full-time nurse and talented artist, upholstered herself), and rearranging the layout of the space.
"We really tried to make all the sections as unique as possible," Dunlap says. "You've got the lounges in the middle, but then you've got the booths against the wall, and then this weird barbershop-type area up at the window where you can sit and have a drink."
Opening a bar is a dream come true for Dunlap who made his first cocktail at 18.
"After I poured that first cocktail, I thought, 'This is it'," Dunlap tells. "That was a lemon drop martini. Apparently it's the best cocktail I make, according to Amara."
It's on the bar's cocktail menu, along with Dunlap's original creations and the classics.
One of Dunlap's greatest passions in opening the bar is to source as much local product as possible, stocking spirits from Newcastle Distilling Co and the Hunter's Farmers Wife Distillery, alongside other Australian distilleries.
"I am really trying to focus on local products but, being American, I had to bring in Aviation gin, too," says Dunlap, who moved from Oregon to Australia at age five.
"I've always been a fan, but, of course, we also have Archie Rose. We've got Young Henry's, Manly Spirits Co., Karu ..."
The menu features gin-based spritzers, including the Pink Panther which combines Karu gin with a pet-nat (naturally fermented wine) from Hunter Valley winemaker Dirt Candy, as well as an espresso martini made of all local ingredients.
"I am actually very happy with that one because we use the Newcastle Distilling Co vodka, Mr Blacks coffee liqueur, and espresso martini mix by Drop Bear Coffee, who are Newcastle-based," Dunlap says.
"The Hunter makes much higher quality products than most other regions, in my opinion."
The wine list is entirely sourced from the Hunter Valley and the bar's food offering, which will start with charcuterie boards until they extend the menu once the kitchen is refurbished, features produce from Hunter cheese company, Hunter Belle.
For the beer drinkers, WA's Gage Road Brewing Co is on tap, but local brewers will feature in the fridge, too.
"I have tried absolutely every gin on my list," Dunlap says. "It's not like I'm putting stuff up there that I don't drink myself. It's all stuff that I drink, that I drink regularly.
"If people come in, I can talk them through it. Some might like something with a bit more pepper, some might lean toward something that's on the Hendricks side, some might like more botanics-wise.
"But when it comes down to it, something big in my book is I feel like you want a bartender who really knows what they're talking about. I feel like while bartenders can know a lot about the spirit, what's the point of coming in when they don't actually drink it?
"For me, I am a gin and tonic fanatic."
Zenteno's creative flair features throughout the space, from the spray paint designs on the booths to the artworks hung on the wall. Art is an important part of the couple's vision for the bar.
A large mural on the back wall was created by artist Jordan Lucky, whose work recently featured as part of the Big Picture Fest in Newcastle, while the name Saints is inspired by one of the couple's favourite artists, New York street art pioneer Jean-Michel Basquait.
"He made some amazing, powerful artworks and we wanted to celebrate our favourite period that he went through, which was Heroes and Saints," Dunlap says.
Saints is located at 31 King St, Newcastle and open 5pm to 2am Friday and Saturday and 5pm to 12am on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday.
IN THE NEWS:
- Dale Laverty: Popular Newcastle and Lake Macquarie lifeguard dead after medical episode at Nobbys beach
- NorthConnex tunnels to open in Sydney's north-west, offering alternative route to Pennant Hills Road
- Hunter Street cyclist pleads guilty to no helmet but not guilty to all other charges at Newcastle Local Court
- Hunter teachers who have been friends since kindergarten mark their first World Teachers' Day together
- PODCAST: The campaign to Save The Drip Gorge near Mudgee in New South Wales