BarLifeUK On Tour in Sydney

After the recent Bacardi Legacy Global Finals in Sydney we decided to stay on a few days longer and check out Sydney’s bar scene.

We lived in Sydney for 6 years and this was our first visit back in over 5. For the past 5 years we’ve been happily telling everyone who would listen (which admittedly isn’t very many) just how good the Australian bar scene is.

Some of the huge Eau De Vie back bar
Some of the huge Eau De Vie back bar

In that time bars in Sydney have gone next level. The change in the style of bars and drinks was breathtaking. Sydney is quite simply one of the best cities in the world to go bar hopping.

A little bit of history on why this change has come about, then we’ll have a look at some of our favourites.

Around 6 years ago Sydney was dominated by big, high capacity venues or restaurants with a bar attached. They were, in general, owned by very rich people with little or no history in high-end cocktail bars. There were of course some notable exceptions not least in the form of Bayswater Brasserie which helped bartenders like Naren Young and Charlie Ainsbury hone their skills.

Then a new mayor came to town called Clover Moore who introduced the small bar licence which made gaining an alcohol license suddenly a very affordable option and opened up a slew of new small cocktail bars. Probably the most famous bar to take advantage of this early on was Sven & Amber Almenning’s Eau de Vie which has won a hatful of awards both locally and internationally.

Now the city is teaming with cool bars owned on the whole by people that care about cocktails and service, often bartenders themselves. Sydney had long played second fiddle to rival Melbourne and although we unfortunately didn’t get to visit Victoria’s capital this time I think it’s safe to say Sydney is at least giving them a run for their money these days.

Enough of history let’s have a look at some of these new bars:

Eau de Vie – 229 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst NSW 2010

It seems right to start with the bar that opened just a few weeks after we left Australia and returned Sydney to the minds of the international bar community. Eau de Vie has a reputation for great drinks and some unusual serves (guided by owner Sven’s love of vintage shakers and glassware) along with some of the best bartenders and managers Sydney has to offer.

When we visited the bar it was ex-London based Alex Clarke who was there to greet us, show us the amazing back bar and talk us through the fascinating cocktail menu which includes one of the best Martini lists we’ve ever seen all served using liquid nitrogen to get them as cold as possible and add a great bit of theatre to the bar.

The rest of the list is made up of some great house creations as well as classics divided up by decade and drinks style. With the low lighting and large list it is definitely a bar that you could lose a night to very easily and very happily.

This Must Be The Place – 239 Oxford St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010

This Must Be The Place (TMBTP) is the antithesis of Eau de Vie. Dark furniture, low lighting and an escape from the outside world is replaced by a bright, open, almost cafe like decor. The long list with its very ‘serious’ drinks is swapped for 7 cocktails including 4 Spritzs. This bar, only 3 months old, is the new generation of bars popping up over the city.

Luke & Chino seem very happy about TMBTP
Luke & Chino seem very happy about TMBTP

Owned and run by old BarLifeUK friends and experienced bartenders Charlie ‘Chino’ Ainsbury (previously of Eau de Vie) and Luke Ashton this became one of our favourite hangouts during our stay. The drinks are based on a very clever carbonation system that we still don’t fully understand despite Luke’s very patient explanation. Basically they make the spritzs up, bottle them then charge them to carbonate them using a machine and magic.

However they do it (and we will be bringing you an interview with the boys soon) the drinks are incredibly light and refreshing with everyone we were joined by on various nights singing their praises. In particular the Gloss and Belafonte went down a treat and the Emerald City which looks like a drinkable Lava Lamp got the oohhs & ahhhs.

The bar was been nominated in the best new bar category long list at this years Spirited Awards which is amazing testament to just how much the bar has been welcomed by the local bar community. Thoroughly well deserved it is too.

Bulletin Place – 1, 10-14 Bulletin Place, Sydney NSW 2000

Another bar which is embracing the less is more mentality when it comes to cocktail menus which we really enjoyed during our trip is Bulletin Place. It has other similarities with TMBTP, also owned and run by bartenders (Tim Philips, Adi Ruiz & Robb Sloan) and gained a nomination at this years Spirited Awards in the form of Tim’s Best International Bartender nod (presumably his proudest moment since he was asked to write for BarLifeUK).

The menu at Bulletin consists of 5 cocktails which change each day. Each evening one of the 3 owners is behind the bar whilst another works the floor. The guy behind the stick heads down to the markets in the morning, get’s inspired by the produce on sale and writes his cocktail list for the day on a big piece of butcher’s paper behind the bar.

As a result the drinks are fresh and seasonal (again the list contains at least one light and refreshing number) and the service whether you are sat at the bar or on one of the dozen or so tables is fantastic. This was another bar we returned to a couple of times and on each occasion the drinks were superb.

It is worth pointing out at this point that of course any classics you want in these bars are available, these guys are exceptionally talented bartenders and can knock up whatever you fancy if for some strange reason their lists don’t inspire you.

The Baxter Inn – Basement, 152-156 Clarence Street, Sydney NSW 2000

The CBD of Sydney was once devoid of decent bars with the exception of the Merivale Groups offerings (those bars are now being headed up superbly by Paul Mant), however no more is that an issue. As well as Bulletin Place you have Baxter Inn another bartender owned venue this was Anton Forte and Jason Scott’s second venue after Shady Pines (more on that later).

Baxter Inn is a bartenders wet dream with what must be around 400 whisk(e)ys, a long bar with plenty of seating so you can stare at the lines of bottles on the back bar whilst nibbling on some complimentary pretzels. The bar itself is back to the basement and dark wood feel which suits the style of drinks and music perfectly.

Once again the cocktail list is short and well balanced which leaves plenty of room for the huge array of wine they have, reportedly including a wine cellar that would make Fritzl the Sommelier a very happy man. There is also a great beer selection including some on tap.

In short if you like whisk(e)y, wine, beer, jazz and backbar porn then, like us, you’ll feel right at home. We are definitely not the only ones with Baxter Inn popping up in two categories at the Spirited Awards longlist.

Barber Shop – 89 York St, Sydney NSW 2000

Sharing a back courtyard area with Baxter is Mike Enright’s Barber Shop. It is however the front of the bar that gets the attention with a very fancy looking actual barbers in the area you first walk into. I am reliably informed a very talented guy works there but this is obviously not my area of expertise.

The Barber Shop (we spent our night propping up the right hand side)
The Barber Shop (we spent our night propping up the right hand side)

Up the stairs and into the bar and the atmosphere hits you immediately. Groups of people standing around chatting and have a wail of a time, the bar staff (head up superbly by Petr Dvoracek) work like a well oiled machine which is hardly surprising considering the calibre of the team.

The cocktail list is bigger than some but still not overwhelming with a focus on gin and genever with Mikey staying true to his roots and listing a selection of ‘Made In Britain’ offerings. They also have a Crawleys Shaker and unlike some places use it on a regular basis with a special section of cocktails with a minimum order of 4 at a time.

Barber Shop is definitely our type of bar and we could have spent the whole night happily stood at the end of the bar chatting with Mikey and occasionally popping to the very clever toilets (seriously). Actually that is exactly what we did.

Shady Pines Saloon – 4/256 Crown St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010

As we touched on earlier the guys behind Baxter Inn started with a bar called Shady Pines and if you are friends with any Aussies on Facebook you will have undoubtedly heard about it before. Both Lee Porter Cavanagh and Dub Dub had told me this was going to be my favourite bar in Sydney and I could definitely seeing it becoming my local very, very quickly.

Whereas Baxter is shirts, bowties, jazz, wine and whisk(e)y, Shady Pines is….. well not that. Walking down the stairs (there’s a lot of stairs either up or down when it comes to bars in Sydney) you enter one of the best dive bars I have ever seen. It is decked out as a cowboy themed bar with walls adorned with superb internet sourced goodies (so much so when they picked up their first win at the Aussie Bar Awards they thanked eBay).

By all accounts the cocktails are awesome but it just seemed right to prop up the bar and have a beer and shot. It is also a good spot to try out a very trendy drink in Sydney, bourbon and fresh pressed apple juice (so freshly pressed most bars have machines on their bars juicing to order) which was certainly a favourite of Shev’s whilst she was out there.

Hello Sailor – 96 Oxford St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010

Close by to Shady Pines sits Marco Farone’s nautical themed den of trouble. Hello Sailor holds a 3am license meaning it is often the hang-out of bartenders after shift. Marco is a Sydney legend and it is no surprise to find a big helping of tongue-in-cheek when you enter his home away from home.

The drink list is full of crowd pleasing tiki-style offerings as well as bartender favourites such as Marco’s signature Negroni’s. We were lucky enough that Daniele Dalla Pola happened to be there on one of our visits and was happy to jump behind the bar a knock up some of his legendary Sexy Coladas.

Hello Sailor is guaranteed to have you leaving with a smile on your face and wondering why on earth you can’t pop in for just one drink.

Mary’s – 6 Mary St, Newtown NSW 2042

It’s fair to say that food is going to be needed and you could do a lot worse than the burgers at Mary’s. The menu is written on a chalkboard on the wall along with an impressive beer list. The venue has a very warehouse feel to it with a long bar on the ground floor and plenty of seating upstairs.

There are two things that stand out in our minds about Mary’s however. One is the music, if you don’t like loud, heavy rock then this isn’t the place for you (any middle aged vegetarian relatives probably wouldn’t feel at home). Secondly are the toilets with some pretty graphic imagery to differentiate between the male and female options, we will leave the exact nature of these for you to discover yourself.

Archie Rose – 85 Dunning Ave, Rosebery NSW 2018

A short taxi ride will get you to the first distillery opened in Sydney in over 150 years in the form of Archie Rose Distilling Co, we will be bringing you a write up on the distillery and its products shortly but the on-site bar deserves a mention in it’s own right.

Archie Rose with moody lighting (pic @jonathan_madanat)
Archie Rose with moody lighting (pic @jonathan_madanat)

Three meters from the distillery the bar sits surrounded by the aging barrels which gives a unique feel to the place. The actual bar set-up could be lifted up and put in any 5 star hotel in the world and look right at home. Great friend of BarLifeUK Nigel Weisbaum works for Archie Rose and set up the bar which must be a joy to work behind.

Lovely touches, such as the water used in the distilling being pumped into their Hoshizaki ice machine and the water taps, continues to the drinks menu. Tasting flights of not only their products (a vodka, gin and white rye) but also of spirits from around the world sit alongside another great beer list and some delicious cocktails.

We particularly liked the Rosebery Rye Julep and knocked back a couple of them after our tasting flight of the superb booze they produce. A trip to Archie Rose is not only worth the taxi fare, it is a must visit if in Sydney.

There are more bars we visited than we can mention (or in some cases remember) from the trip and several we unfortunately didn’t get the time to visit most notably Lobo Plantation, Neighbourhood (run by Simon McGoram), Frankie’s, Earl’s Juke Joint and The Cliff Dive (which we did visit with about 100 Bacardi guests and were desperate to re-visit with no luck).

As we said Sydney is one of the best places in the world to go drinking now days, yes it’s a long way to go but you won’t be disappointed and with Melbourne and Brisbane just short hops away you certainly won’t run out of options.

It is this distance that has helped create such a dynamic cocktail scene across Australia. Not many of the bartenders have been lucky enough to visit Europe’s top bars or America’s favourite haunts and as such they have a fresh and unique outlook on drinks and bars. The fact is that now it seems they will not be the ones travelling overseas to get ideas and inspiration it will be bartenders coming to them for that.