Owner, The Australian Bar & Restaurant
Matt Astill is an Australian former Rugby League player and the owner of The Australian Bar and Restaurant in Midtown, Manhattan.
If you’re an Aussie in New York, you’ve heard of The Australian. You may have even been there to cheer on your team being screened on the televisions or to taste their range of Australian wine and beer. You may have even tried their delicious meat pies and sausage rolls at our receptions!
Originally from Manly in New South Wales, Matt moved to NYC over 10 years ago to develop Rugby League in the states. After falling into the hospitality industry whilst here, Matt dreamed up an bar showing Aussie-centric sports with a great Aussie menu. Thus, The Australian was born.
Visit The Australian's website.
How long have you lived in New York and what brought you here?
I moved to New York in January 2002, originally on a P1 Visa to help develop Rugby League over here. I was working for former NRL player David Niu of the American National Rugby League, mainly in New York. I met my wife a few years in. My father in law is an undertaker, so I had to stay!
Tell us a little bit about your background and how it led to opening The Australian.
I played Rugby League (not very well) at Manly and Newtown in Sydney. I had finished playing and was travelling when I heard about an opportunity in the U.S. I wasn't in hospitality back in Australia, I fell into that over here. To supplement my income I started bartending. I loved the social aspect of it. I wasn't a great bartender in terms of making cocktails, but I love a chat, and that goes a long way. I suppose being Aussie made me interesting to people. I went from bartending to managing and eventually I was doing less of the Rugby League and more of the bar work.
How did the concept of The Australian originally come to you and how has it developed since it opened?
As well as doing the Rugby League development, I was managing a bar on the Upper East Side called the Ship of Fools (which is sadly no longer there). Back in the day it was one of the most popular sports bars in the city. I always thought an Aussie bar showing Aussie-centric sports with a good Australian menu would do well. I thought of a nice homey pub that wasn't tacky, yet was unashamedly Australian. I had been talking about it for a while when the owners of Ship of Fools, Glenn and Owen Treacher called suggested that we do it together. So we did! We opened in August 2007. There are a lot more Aussies here now, which is great for business. It also makes it easier to hire Aussie staff. The area we are in (garment district) has changed a lot too. There is much more happening on our block than when we first opened.
What can people expect when they visit The Australian? Any menu recommendations?
You can expect friendly service, great food, outstanding cocktails and a great Aussie (and some Kiwi!) wines! People can also be pretty much assured that they can watch any game of rugby, Aussie Rules, cricket or anything else on our TVs. Our original chef, Roland Graham, was Australian and we kept a lot of his dishes intact. We have recently overhauled the menu for the better. My faves are still our Parma and Aussie Lamb Roast. Our Nachos are very popular too. I would recommend coming in and trying us again if you haven't been in for a while. I am really excited by our revamped menu.
Where in Australia is ‘home’ and what do you miss most about it?
Home is Manly, NSW. I miss the beaches and outdoor lifestyle (especially during winter here!)
What’s the best part of having your own piece of Australia in New York City?
I don't really get homesick as I get to talk to Aussies all day, so I am always fairly up to date on the news and sport. I used to always go down to Eight Mile Creek and watch the cricket at all hours before I opened The Australian. Now I do it for work!
Many Antipodean travellers and expats come into The Australian for a beer, to hear a familiar accent or to watch a game. Who are some of the most memorable Aussies you’ve hosted?
Probably former PM Julia Gillard. There has been a bunch of others - Rupert Murdoch has been in a few times, so has Baz Luhrmann. Ron Barassi came to a Grange tasting we had here. Also plenty of Aussie sports stars like Tim Cahill, Daniel Geale, Patty Mills and always a lot of Aussie Rules and Rugby League guys.
What is your favorite spot in New York City?
Grand Central Station and Central Park. Both places have so many cool things both well-known and hidden.
Where do you live and why did you choose that area?
I live in Demarest, New Jersey, in Bergen County. My wife Nicole and I moved there when our son Dylan was born. We thought it would be nice to have a backyard and space. Though we do miss the action of living in the city. My wife is from New York City so it is taking her longer to adjust to the suburbs!
What does a typical day for you look like?
I typically get the bus in from NJ around mid-morning and will stay at the bar through happy hour. I enjoy interacting with the patrons. That's the easy part. We get the rest of the business done in the middle of the day. I stay late if there is something going on or sneak off if there is not! That is more common now. I used to be there 24/7 but I have really pulled back in the last year of so.
What’s next for you and The Australian?
We are a few months away from our 8th birthday, so hopefully another eight after that and then a few more! There will be a party for that in August. Maybe another Australian soon! We’ve got plenty happening in the bar. Live sport screenings coming up in April include the ANZAC Day AFL and NRL matches. To commemorate ANZAC Day on Saturday, 25 April, we have a gunfire breakfast, live music and 2-Up. You can find out more about our sports screenings and events on our website: www.theaustraliannyc.com