Tilly May’s Bar

Alexander &CO. designed Tilly May’s Bar using the essence of strong female characters who shaped the colourful underworld of Sydney in the late 1800s.

  • area / size 1,937 sqft
  • Year 2019
  • Location Sydney, Australia,
  • Our client’s brief was to create a rooftop bar and bistro which would benefit from the double height scale of the existing roof structure and engage with the streetscape. They required a separate entry from both an operational and brand utility, allowing it to be a stand alone venue which can operate on its own hours, independent of the popular Trinity Bar below. Outside of that brief, the client was open to our creative lead.

    The history of the Trinity Bar dates to the time of Tilly May; a notorious matriarch of the cut throat gangs which once controlled the black market trade within Sydney’s inner-city suburbs.

    Our creative direction centres around the retelling of the building’s heritage through the uncovering of existing materials and structures. Stripped back to reveal its original form, it appeared only natural that part of this storytelling should also involve the building’s original patrons.

    Located in Surry Hills, one of Sydney’s oldest suburbs, the site of the new venue was an existing upper level bar/lounge servicing the Trinity Bar below.

    When pulled back, the resulting bar is a loft style two storey void; large, bright and open to the sky, with each smaller ‘living area’ connecting back to the main bar but also back to the central feature. The flanking rooms; private dining, lounge and bar areas, are composed of smaller vignettes, all upon a new marble chequer plate floor. The kitchen and small pass is cleverly concealed behind a discrete ‘bookshelf’ style joinery which does not impact the theatre of the surrounding living room setting.

    By introducing a retractable roof and exposed roof structure, the bar feels large and light-filled whilst still only operating from its constrained footprint. This is a significant transformation from the previous space which was restricted operationally and as a result was largely unused.

    The result is a ‘grand’ small bar. Layered and dimensional, it has a ‘found’ feel, the large volume surprising and impactful.

    As with all adaptive reuse projects, there was a social and ecological benefit to harvesting the existing material and spatial resources available to us. We were therefore able to celebrate the spirit of the space’s latent potential whilst minimising the additional materials and fabrication that otherwise would have been required on site. In fact the venue’s exposed beams were the very same that Devine and her entourage would have once looked up at.

    As a result we have created a space that is authentic, personal and akin to the feeling of being in someone’s home. The introduction of an operable roof and exposed roof structure, elevates what is otherwise a constrained floorplan and allows it to become a large and light-filled space.

    Innovation, and in turn beauty, can be found in the intricate attention to detail used to create this sensibility of space. From the careful application of tonal aged leathers and warm honey and brushed spotted gum timbers to unique and varied granite stones, each and every material layer adds to a familiar, domestic tone. This is particularly evident in the clever concealment of the kitchen and small pass with discrete bookshelf inspired joinery.

    Tilly May’s is located at the junction of Devonshire and Crown Street and directly outside a new tram station linking Sydney’s Central station to Moore Park. Answering the current need for a new wave of gentrification in Surry Hills the venue is again returned to the public with the intention for long lasting prosperity. This is beneficial to the client, customer and surrounding community.

    Design: Alexander &CO.
    : Anson Smart