Where: 245 Oxford St Darlinghurst 2010
Opening Hours: Tue -Thur 5pm - 12am Sat 3pm - 12am Sun 12pm - 10pm
Phone: (02) 8354 1306
A shebeen, a rather musical word, is a Gaelic Irish term for an illegal drinking den (originally meaning "dodgy whiskey") where booze was sold without a license. The Irish pretty much exported excessive drinking and anti-authoritarian overindulgence globally as far as South Africa and, obviously for anyone who lives near Bondi, Sydney too. The two cultures come together at Lucky Tsotsi.
The black communities in townships in South Africa adopted the shebeen idea during the apartheid years to actually have places to drink, as they weren't allowed to fraternise in whites-only venues. The shantytown-style bars are the inspiration behind Lucky's, owned by former Cape Towners and dude food lovers Oscar Lenden, Jamie Borruso and Cameron Beattie. Forget slimming snacks here, it's high-cal counts and strong drinks as far as your dilated pupils can see.
The food is for sharing, and is peppered with spicy peri peri South African-via-Portugal standards like chicken livers ($9.90) and prawns ($16.90). More exotic is the samp and beans, apparently Nelson Mandela's favourite, which is crushed corn and beans in a tomato stew ($8.90), and who is anyone to argue with the great man. The pap'n'sauce is a stodgy potenta-type dollop of "mielie" or mash in a tasty onion and tomato gravy ($5.90), and may require more than two to get through. Oddly, there's also a few Indian dishes such as bakgat "bunny" chow ($15.90), a misnamed rabbit-less curry in sambals in hollowed-out bread, and samoosas. There's a huge Indian population in South Africa, which is clearly an influence on the food. There are also plenty of unfamiliar beers from Cape Town and Jo'berg (and check out the Savanna, a light and not-too-sweet cider).
The narrow two-storey interior is decorated with Warhol-like multiple screen prints of Lion matchboxes and corrugated iron sheets, and is buzzing and fun, if too cramped. The waiters do a little please-get-outta-the-way dance with customers each time they need to serve dishes, but perhaps that's part of the crowded charm.
A South African, never mind African, themed bar is rare if not unique in the inner city. And if that's not enough, there's a 98% proof bottle of potcheen, the paint-stripping spirit made illegally in Ireland, behind the bar to get back to Lucky's Celtic roots. But it's for show, not for sale … everything is above board in this little faux-illegal boozer.
By David Lappin
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