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October 21, 2011 / amyjmcintosh

Small Bar Tour

Tutti Frutti cocktail

The rivalry that exists between Sydney and Melbourne is no secret. Both have tickets on themselves as being the superior city, but truth be told, both have their merits. Where one excels in beaches (Sydney), the other triumphs in exceptional cafe culture (Melbourne). Indeed, you’d have the perfect city if you combined the best bits of the two; as you would have the perfect man if you were to combine George Clooney’s face with Brad Pitt’s body and Ewan McGregor’s sexy Scottish accent. But I digress.

Cafe culture isn’t the only thing Melbourne has down pat. Great shopping, a happening arts scene and a plethora of “too-cool-for-school” wine bars are also among its talents. In fact, Sydney has long been the poor cousin of its southern neighbour when it comes to bars imbued with charm, cosiness and a certain “je ne sais quo”. Until now.

Thanks to the relaxation of liquor licensing laws (that have made it next to impossible for most mere mortals to set up a small bar), the average Joe can now set up shop for $500. This is a bit cheaper than the $100k it used to cost. Since August 2008, around 30 new small bars have sprouted up in the centre of the city. The result? Sydneysiders are happy as pigs in mud.

By their very nature, small bars are small and hidden away in the most unlikely places. Some are “holes-in-the-wall” while others are so inconspicuous they don’t even have signs out the front. To help open the lid of this new and hidden culture I took matters into my own hands and signed up for a Small Bar Tour.

First stop on the tour is Stitch. Truth be told, I am running late, so I only see the outside of this blink-and-you-miss it bar. Located at 61 York Street, Sydney, it describes itself as small enough to fit between the stitches of your pocket. Cute. They only have two areas that can be reserved for larger groups. ‘The Cell’ can fit six to eight people at the table and the ‘Side Room’ can fit 10 – 12. Both rooms can be booked from Monday to Saturday, excluding Friday. Could be good for a soiree. Bigger or smaller bookings can be accommodated on Saturdays.

Next stop on our wee bar crawl is Since I Left You.

Since I Left You

Since I Left You

Named after The Avalanches’ song of the same name, Since I Left You is tucked away on Sydney’s Kent Street. It’s the realisation of a lifelong dream for co-owners, Nick and Elvis. Together, they spent five months refurbing what used to be a cloakroom for an upstairs office.

“It’s a strange phenomenon, but apart from a few main streets, the city is pretty much ghost town after hours,” says Nick. “I see small bars as an essential part of breathing life back into the the Sydney CBD, after all small bars are the cafes of the night.

“There’s so much history in the city, and sadly most of it is completely overlooked by a lot of people. Small bars are perfect for occupying and celebrating all those forgotten, out-of-the-way spaces just like what we’ve done.” I couldn’t agree more.

Nick tells me their Tutti Frutti cocktail is one of their more popular drinks and I can see why – it’s a peach, mango, and strawberry daiquiri topped with crushed Fruit Tingles.  Did someone say yum?!

Tutti Frutti cocktail

Next stop on the small bar tour is Grasshopper. There’s lots to love about this place; a thriving bar-cum-restaurant in an alleyway at the back of George Street. One of the things I love the most is the warm welcome that greets me at the front door. A rarity in a city that has lost the plot when it comes to good service. Milk crates adorn the alleyway at the front of the that used to be a dumping ground for surrounding offices.

Drinks are served in beakers.  The menu is deliberately short and sharp – there’s 10 cocktails to choose from. I highly recommend number 33 – a winning combo of honey and ginger rice wine with lemon, mint and lemonade. Aye carumba!

We jump in a cab to get to the fourth and best stop of our whirlwind bar crawl. Crown Street’s Shady Pines Saloon is so cool it doesn’t have a sign. You’d be forgiven for walking straight past if it weren’t for the queue of thirsty bar goers lining up out front.

Shady Pines Saloon

Shady Pines Saloon

Don’t judge a book by its cover because behind its non-descript exterior is a funky bar that would be right at home in Tribeca, NYC. The thing that wins me over (besides their Whisky Apple) is the obvious lack of door lists and attitudes – everyone is welcome at Shady Pines. Just be prepared to queue.

Shady Pines Saloon

Shady Pines Saloon

We now move a hop, skip and a jump away to Sydney’s new mecca of small bars and eating houses – Burton Street. We visit three bars along this strip, including the likes of 13b Cafe & Cocktail Bar and Pocket. But special mention must go to The Commons Local Eating House.

The Commons

The entrance to The Commons Local Eating House

This place oozes charm and warmth thanks to the combination of soft lighting, hand-chipped sandstone walls and friendly staff. I feel like I am in someone’s house as I walk down the ancient staircase to the cosy basement below. In fact, I love it so much I’m going back for dinner tonight! They have a farmhouse taste-of-the-season menu that sounds right up my alley as well as duck liver pate with cornichons that looks too good to miss.

Duck liver pate and cornichons

Duck liver pate and cornichons at The Commons.

The Commons Local Eating House

I simply must eat this next time I go there. It would be rude not to. Compliments to The Commons' website for the pic.

Run by the City of Sydney, the Small Bar Tour takes in eight bars, in and around the CBD and Surry Hills. It goes for about two hours and costs $75. Included in the cost are two cocktails and a cab ride. As it’s a small bar tour, the groups are also small limited to 12 people tops. For more info on the wee bar crawl, contact Small Bar Tours.

Amy’s Cookbook was a guest of Destination NSW as part of Crave Sydney celebrations.

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