A Tale of Two Marys

It was 2013 the last time we were in Sydney. We were younger, childless, and there ostensibly for work. That time around we went to cool places: speakeasy-style bars where you hit a few keys on an old typewriter to open a secret door, restaurants with giant barn doors to enormous open kitchens, and a trip to Newtown where we wandered into Mary’s, where the music was loud and fast, Slayer Juice was poured from the tap, and the burger was incredible. Mary’s was such a wonderful place and we had such a great time that we considered naming our potential unborn kid after the bartender. Her name was Naomi, and while that didn’t end up being Fiona’s name, it was definitely in the conversation. Maybe in the top four.

This time around, we were hoping to go to Mary’s again. Newtown is a few train stops south, and figuring out how to get there and get into what we remembered as a very adult place was going to be a logistical challenge. But it was on my list. Luckily, while in Fiji I mentioned the place to a fellow guest who happened to be a Sydneysider, and he said “Yeah, Mary’s is still around. You can sit outside now because of the pandemic, but they’ve also expanded. They have a location in Circular Quay…”

Slayer Juice, still on tap.

Whoa. We are staying in Circular Quay. So last night we walked over, at the end of a nearly perfect warm summer day. Mary’s is across from a little park, next to a coffee house, and has an outside beer garden under tents, which was hopping and fully packed at 6:45 on a Thursday night. The friendly waiter found us some high-top seats inside instead. Turns out that was the right call. The bar is dark, all the lights are red, and the music is a heavy and just not-loud enough to talk over. To my middle-aged eyes, it pulsed with cool. Happily, Slayer Juice (a black IPA) is still on tap (“We had to replace it for a while, but this is the O.G S.J.”)

The point of Mary’s food is fast food, but good. So the burger is based on a Big Mac, and the fried chicken has its spiritual origin at KFC. Vegan versions are also available. I’d had the fried chicken last time and it was good, but after a couple of bites of Julie’s burger I’d realized I’d gotten the short end of the stick. This time we both went with Mary’s burgers (includes fries), and Fiona got a plainer version of the same. Julie and I were a little nervous. Indications were good, but what if it wasn’t as good as our memory? While we waited, Fiona kept calm and read Super Hero Girls.

The white stuff in the background is the wax from thousands of candles, accumulated over time; the neon sign is why we’re happy that while Fi loves to “read” comic books in restaurants, she isn’t actually reading yet. 🙂

Our burgers came. After our first bite, we started giggling with joy and relief. They were perfect, I tell you. PERFECT. It’s hard to describe food in the best of circumstances, and in this case it’s really hard to do any better than note that Mary’s makes a burger that is exactly what a burger should taste like. It’d be out of place in a Michelin restaurant, I guess, but if it were to show up anywhere else, you’d freak out about how amazing it is. Cook this at a backyard barbecue and your friends would be clamoring for another cookout the following weekend. It’s just plain good.

This is The Burger.
Halfway done. Yep, still perfect.
In the downstairs hallway, there are these pictures of cool dudes.
How good is the burger? So good that I took Fiona’s leftovers and made a taco out of half a bun and burger bits. Delicious.

Mary’s in Circular Quay was every bit as good as I remembered Mary’s in Newtown to be. The staff was just as lovely, in an atmosphere where at home you’d expect surliness and disdain. We were happy just sitting there and taking it all in. But that burger, my friends. It’s what In N Out aspires to be in its wildest dreams. It’s what Shake Shack is supposed to be and never is. It’s the best smashed burger in the world, and I’m willing to go to the mat for that.

Thanks, Mary’s. Thank you for living up to my memory and giving us a special night.

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Marys

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