COPPA team drops the needle on its ultra-slick Newstead vinyl bar

When we heard that one of Brisbane’s savviest hospitality groups was adding a Japanese-inspired vinyl bar to its portfolio, you best believe we preemptively penciled it in as one of the coolest openings of the year. Thankfully, Ruby, My Dear – the newest venue from the Happy Fat Group – has more than lived up to expectations.

Apr 20, 2023, updated Apr 20, 2023

The venue opened last week, showing off a broad genre-spanning catalogue of vinyl records, a menu of izakaya-style eats where fun is a key ingredient and a jam-packed beverage offering encompassing creative cocktails and kooky wines. If you’re keen to sip sake negronis with a side of soul, add a dash of disco to your dancing bonito-topped bone-marrow udon and savour Japanese matcha cakes as jazz plays through premium loudspeakers, we suggest planning a night out in Newstead ASAP.

When Ruby, My Dear’s four Pitt & Giblin speakers were hoisted into position and hooked up to the venue’s dual record players, Bonnie Shearston already had a tune lined up to test the newly installed sound system. It wasn’t the venue’s Thelonious Monk-penned namesake that hit the platter first, but a decidedly funkier, well-rounded number ideal for breaking in the premium loudspeakers. Bonnie’s choice? ‘Yellow Moon’ by The Neville Brothers. Boasting a limber bass line, snappy up-tempo percussion and nimble keys – as well as Aaron Neville’s sublime vocals, of course – it’s a track one can envision being on regular rotation at Ruby, My Dear.

The vinyl bar opened to the public on Thursday April 13 and by all reports the venue was pumping from the jump. A playlist of hand-picked vinyl – curated and played by resident DJs Emily Devers and Jordan Rogers-Smith of Waiting Room Records – soundtracked the night in tandem with animated conversations taking place over plates of Japanese-inspired drinking food. “They were here all night playing some really cool funk and disco,” says Bonnie, who was still coming down from the opening-night festivities when we spoke to her the following afternoon. “Last night was perfect. It was great. I think it just felt really fun in here and I think there was an equal amount of excellent feedback for the food, the drinks, the service and the music.” Judging by the stories shared on social media over the following days, the hotly anticipated spot continued to be busy throughout its opening weekend. Safe to say, we’re not surprised.

The Ruby, My Dear brains trust, consisting of Bonnie and co-owners Pablo Warner, Andrew Hackworth and fellow Happy Fat (COPPA and Red Hook) head honcho Tom Sanceau, has taken a handful of Japanese concepts (specifically its intimate jazz kissas and lively neighbourhood izakayas) and woven them into an understated-yet-vibey contemporary listening bar that appeals to music heads, epicures and the local casual dinner crowd alike. In collaboration with architect Adam Laming, the crew has exchanged the aesthetic of the site’s previous inhabitant, Drum Dining, for a slick and moody interior look that mixes warm and dark textures and strikes a balance between comfort and cool (think black tile and black leather meets plush blush-hued banquettes and pendant lights).

It’s a choose-your-own-adventure kind of space – guests can lounge on the strip of banquettes that extends the length of the venue, perch at the bar or snag a spot on the outdoor terrace. No matter where you sit, you’ll be able to hear the tunes emanating from the loudspeakers. Speaking of which, a vinyl display located behind the decks and another record-filled cabinet at the rear feature wall houses Ruby’s wax collection – an eclectic and genre-spanning catalogue of sounds cultivated by Pablo, the bar’s music coordinator. Old gems, new tracks, disco, funk, soul, hip-hop and lofi records – if it’s on wax, it can get a spin.

Every Thursday and Sunday resident DJs will make regular appearances behind the decks, while rotating guest DJs will jump on the ones and twos on Friday and Saturday nights to spin tracks from their own collections. Underscoring the notion that music is core to Ruby, My Dear, the venue will also host performances from a house band on the first Tuesday of every month, with performances opening up to guest musicians later in the year. “We’re already finding so many great musicians in Brisbane,” says Pablo, when we spoke to him March. “We love music so much and it’s so amazing to see other people who love music want this for Brisbane. We want to be an epicentre for it and a place of growth not only for DJs but for live musicians as well – people who want to grow musically, hone their ear and train up and get better, be it through jamming, practicing or just being around that culture.”

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In the kitchen, Andrew is overseeing a malleable menu of izakaya-style eats that’s easily shareable, with a layer of interactivity adding to the fun-focused nature of the spread. Though the offering is divided into sections, there’s no set way to enjoy the food – merely mix and match based on what your stomach tells you. Perhaps you’ll start with some shime saba (pickled mackerel with wasabi and soy) and wagyu tataki with garlic crisps from the raw menu, before wrapping your mitts around a mayo-laced pork katsu sando served on fluffy milk bread. Maybe a few nibble-worthy plates of chicken karaageagedashi tofu with sticky tsuyu and caramelised miso, and panko-prawn ebi buns are enough to satisfy. If not, there are always the large-format plates, anchored by the koji-rubbed wagyu rump served with kombu soy butter and miso carrot, as well as the bowl of udon noodles topped with dancing bonito, which comes with miso-roasted bone marrow to scrape in and mix into a delightfully glossy feed. Save the bone, though – you can luge a shot of sake with it when you’re done.
Indecisive? Two kinds of banquet are available to eliminate that issue. As for Ruby, My Dear’s beverage program, Bonnie has curated a cocktail list well worth investigating thoroughly. The yellow-hued sake negroni (made with Roku gin, sake and suze), the silky Hard Boiled Wonderland (Chita whisky, plum, cherry and coconut), the Toki Highball (Toki blended whisky, coconut water and mint), and the Shochu Snowball slushie (frozen yogurt shochu with a blend of vanilla, passionfruit and pineapple flavours) are certified winners. On the vino front, the Ruby team is mixing the familiar with the kooky, pouring both adventurous and accessible drops. “We wanted it to be sessionable wine and it also needed to pair well with those Asian flavours,” says Bonnie. “Think those older world residual sugars – your gruners and whatnot – that quintessentially go with your spicy flavours.” Quaffable Japanese and local craft beers are also available, alongside a broad-reaching back-bar selection (with a slight lean towards whisky and gin) and a clutch of low- and no-alcohol options for folks keeping clear-headed.Ruby, My Dear is now open to the public. Head to the Stumble Guide for operating hours and other important details.This article was written by James Frostick from The Weekend Edition.
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