There’s giggles from the suits as they pass us on the stairs. That kind of response to looking for the secret unmarked entrance is not uncommon. We’re heading the other way – up the stairs. We’ve been drinking single malts at The Baxter Inn since not much later than the 4pm opening. As we walk in, we spy a well known hospitality trade friend and his mate at the bar. It’s still daylight as we leave, yet there’s already a queue in the laneway with CBD-ers eager to get down the stairs and get their glasses in their hands.
While there’s something exciting about the forbidden nature of Sydney’s coolest secret bar, once inside the bar stands on its own as our current favourite – laneway cool or not. Bow-tied bartenders know their stuff. Top whiskies from the UK, the USA and Japan make their way back and forth from laddered shelves. We leave ourselves in the hands of the knowledgeable staff - from Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila, our ABCs don’t get much better than this. When we move from the Islays to cocktails it’s still our bartender’s choice. The first is poured around house made block ice. There’s an extensive list of other quality beverages if we really must try something other than whisky. Louis Roederer Champagne takes our eye for celebrations. Pretzels cleanse our palate between drinks. And as we lean on the bar, the drinks slide down even easier to the sounds of cool jazz and blues.
The Baxter Inn
in a laneway off Clarence Street
Peanuts in their shells fill the spaces between Johnny Cash and whisky at Shady Pines Saloon. On one occasion security asks a bloke who joyfully does the full monty to take his entertainment outside. From the smoky peaty flavours of Islay our Laphroiag and Ardbeg is drunk straight and later in the evening turned into classic cocktails – such as a Rob Roy. We like it. It’s always a good sign when the bartender sips a straw to check on flavour. These bartenders are some of Sydney’s best.
It’s not quite CBD when we join the East Sydney crowd amongst the antlers in this American style bar. Bourbon may feel more at home here for some, yet there’s more than a fair share of punters with beer in their glass. Though we note: beer in cans is the new black, as bartenders are the new baristas.
From the same owners as The Baxter Inn, the less recently opened but still awesome Shady Pines Saloon is another of Sydney’s unmarked laneway venues that always takes our fancy.
Shady Pines Saloon
in a laneway off Crown Street
When the licensing laws in Sydney changed a couple of years back, perhaps the first to open in the off laneway revolution was Grasshopper. Just a week or so back the place got a facelift with new wallpaper. The vintage mix of 50s 60s 70s decor is still the design backdrop for the third of our choices in Sydney’s secret hangouts. Jam jars hit the lips as both short and long glasses.
There’s even free cocktail making classes – register early to avoid disappointment.
in a laneway off George Street
As the (r)evolution continues, laneway entertainment isn’t just limited to these bars in Sydney. There’s a whole range of permanent and pop-up locations at which to gather with friends. The official suburb for LL Bar & Dine is Potts Point but for locals and travellers we are more likely to think of Llankelly Place as in ‘The Cross’. It’s history brings more of that feel, a history that found pages of porn behind the walls during renovations. Two years ago, the Barge brothers help transformed a laneway where even locals feared to tread into a what’s now a strip of eating and drinking heaven. With their joint inspired by the bustling Hong Kong bar scene we think kicking back with the LL Hong Kong Island Ice Tea is a great way to pass the time. The food here is also too good to miss.
LL Bar & Dine
42 Llankelly Place, Potts Point NSW Australia
+ 61 2 9356 8393
Hanging out in the laneway itself is another of our new Sydney pastimes. A pig on a spit fed the hungry crowds last month at Best Cellars Summer of Riesling Laneway Tasting. The garage at the back of the premises, had some of Sydney’s best sommeliers and wine writers guiding us through an international array of Rieslings. Yet it was a few paces farther back into Crown Lane East Sydney where we took our glasses to compare tasting notes with our mates.
91 Crown Street, East Sydney NSW Australia
+61 2 9361 3733