A few years ago, before the extension of the tram line led a revitalisation of Adelaide’s inner northwest, the space now given to Suzie Wong’s room was used as the office of Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. The panelled office ceiling remains, but little else is recognisable. Now, red lanterns are suspended from the ceiling, prints from local artists adorn the walls, and the place is filled with tables, chairs and conversations. The place is packed on a Saturday night. A DJ sits in the corner playing pop music classics, while in the room’s corner window, a temporary stage is erected for local duo the Dunes to serenade the after-dinner crowd. The room is separated into a bar area and a dining room, and both are brimming with energy. Smokers have to traipse outside, underneath the verandah, but they’re not gone out there for long.
Adelaide’s still-restrictive liquor licensing prevents Suzie Wong’s from serving drinks without also serving food. Vegetarian antipasto has some good features – perfect Lebanese bread, nice cheeses and quince paste – but it would have been good to know whose cheeses and paste we were sampling. Similarly, the wine on the specials board read ‘2006 Tempranillo’ ($7.50 a glass). It was full-bodied and tasty, but we can’t tell you anything more about it.
As a small restaurant, Wong’s bustles. Although the bar is themed after the Richard Mason novel The World of Suzie Wong – about a Hong Kong brothel – the food is more European in tone. Gulas, kranskis, chevaps and pizza and cabbage rolls all coexist nicely. The wine list is small but strong, and a small wooden barrel at the bar offers port for $4.50. The one cocktail on the specials menu, a ‘red martini’ with chambord, vodka and cranberry, was a hit for sweet teeth. The tiny cellar is a kooky venue for small private functions or shows.
Wong’s has become a hub for folk and jazz musicians in Adelaide, and the music has been one of the sources of its popularity. It's a dilettante’s bar – it’s a bar, a restaurant, a function room, a dancefloor and a live music venue, all in a small space. As all of these features come together, it’s not hard to see Suzie Wong’s Room becoming a special Adelaide venue.