Some two years in the making, The Carter is a real passion project for owner Chady Khouzame – a multi-storey CBD bar and restaurant that combines his team’s passion for hip hop and stadium pop music with a love of hearty American food.
The central motif is pop culture power couple Beyoncé and Jay Z. “We thought of them as the king and queen,” Khouzame tells the BRAG. “They’re really the pinnacle”.
The venue pays homage to these icons, but often does so with a sly wink. “We’ve got Kanye over there on one wall, thinking he’s Jesus,” Khouzame jokes.
In the upstairs area of this art deco building, The Carter boasts a handsome bar. Downstairs is darker and louder with banquette seating, a backlit bar and a DJ set-up in one corner. The look sits halfway between industrial-chic and throbbing nightclub: the walls are covered in striking black-and-white portraits of Beyoncé’s tear-streaked (but regal) face, Kanye wearing a crown of thorns and Taylor Swift as a religious icon flipped on her side.
Lyrics written graffiti-style are splashed over the images, which are intended as a playful provocation: “We wanted to push some buttons, get people talking,” Khouzame explains. They’ve even turned one of Kanye’s more (in)famous lyrics on its head in a bid to make it more empowering for Swift.
These lyrics are the work of a Melbourne street artist who prefers to remain anonymous. They pay vibrant tribute to the big city energy, entrepreneurship and penchant for controversy of New York’s entertainment scene.
In fact, the approach was in part inspired by both Khouzame’s background in the music industry and a fact-finding mission that led him to New York and Los Angeles, where he took in small bars, steakhouses and clubs.
The food is authentically American in terms of both inspiration and portion sizes, which are massive. You’ll be wanting a small team to take on an indulgent bowl of Notorious B.I.G. Animal Fries ($12), which comes heaped with gooey mac and cheese and is scattered with crispy bacon.
Soft shell tacos ($3 each) are a lighter option, and you can choose from tender, slow-cooked beef, chorizo and rice, or a cauliflower option that’s given a nice punch with chilli slaw and lime juice. Perhaps the real star of the menu, however, is the Obama Fried Chicken ($28) – a plate positively piled with a small mountain of chicken, thick and sweet waffles, and fresh slices of watermelon.
Introducing Southern comfort food to a mostly Northern-leaning selection, these rate as some of the most satisfying fried chicken pieces around – caramel coloured, moist and flavoursome, and just greasy enough to have you licking your fingers.
Other on-brand menu items include a foot-long Snoop Hot Dog, Nas sticky lamb ribs and the already popular Kanye BBQ corn cob, while the Biggie T-bone steak would probably be too much even for the famous food-loving rapper it’s named after, coming in at a gargantuan one kilogram.
The cocktail list continues the Bey and Jay theme, with detours to Kanye and Obama. A standout cocktail is the Pablo ($20), which delivers clean, fresh flavours of cucumber and gin, complemented by the honeyed notes of green liqueur and dehydrated orange.
Throw in an all-killer, no-filler soundtrack with the likes of Alicia Keys, Ciara and Missy Elliott pumping through the PA and you’ll be drunk in love with The Carter.
The Carter is located at 16 O’Connell St, Sydney. Opening hours are 11am – 10pm Monday – Friday, 11am – 2am Friday, and 6pm – 2pm on Saturday. Call (02) 9231 1640 to make a booking.