The Baxter Inn's take on the classic whisky cocktail, the Rob Roy.

A Good Thing: the Reverse Rob Roy recipe from The Baxter Inn

A Good Thing

A Good Thing

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You may know Sydney bar The Baxter Inn for its 800-plus bottles of whisky; you may know it from multiple appearances on The World’s 50 Best Bars list; or you may even know it from this story on this here publication.

The truth is that The Baxter Inn is well known for many reasons, not least its cocktails. Though the temptation may be to splurge on some neat rare, unique drams from their whisky room, a cocktail at the bar in the early afternoon, before the bar is full, is very much A Good Thing. The air is cool, the bowl of pretzels in front of you never ends, and there’s that feeling in the room that something could happen.

The drink to go with this? Their Reverse Rob Roy. It’s a take on the classic Rob Roy, but with the proportions of sweet vermouth to Scotch whisky switched around; that means that this drink is a little lower in alcohol, and a perfect way to ease into your evening.

But it’s not a simple switch of the proportions and away you go — they’ve added a little dash of Averna, a lick of which lifts the drink from good to great. It’s all underpinned by the ever so peaty Laphroaig 10, which leaves a light smoky note lingering in your mouth.

It’s delicious. It’s also a drink that you can recreate at home – take a look at the recipe below. But be prepared: the drink might never taste as good as it does, sitting at the bar.

The Baxter Inn's take on the classic whisky cocktail, the Rob Roy.

Reverse Rob Roy

This take on the Rob Roy is lighter in alcohol, but still packs in the flvour thanks to a lick of Amaro.

Ingredients

  • 50ml sweet vermouth
  • 20ml Laphroaig 10
  • 5ml Averna Amaro

Instructions

  1. Stir all ingredients with ice in a mixing glass.
  2. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  3. Spray the zest from a disc of lemon peel over the drink, discarding the zest.

A Good Thing: a beer at the bar at the Napier Hotel

A Good Thing

A Good Thing

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Melbourne was for a long time the undisputed eating and drinking capital of Australia. But over the last decade, Sydney has certainly stepped up to the plate on the bar side of the ledger.

One area, however, where Melbourne is still the undisputed leader? Pubs. Whereas most Sydney pubs have put in downlights and have been renovated so deeply that any character has been erased — knocking down and rebuilding is so Sydney — it is pubs like the Napier Hotel in Fitzroy that can show a Sydneysider like me just what we’ve lost.

For a start, it’s not on a main street but a backstreet, set a few blocks between Brunswick and Smith streets.

The Napier Hotel is a first stop for me whenever I’m in Melbourne, and it’s a favourite haunt with bartenders from Fitzroy and Collingwood. It’s everything a great pub ought to be: friendly, comforting, familiar — the beer is cold and the food is hearty.

There’s a range of local beers on tap and a hefty selection of wine to complement a menu of pub meal staples done to a higher standard than most.

Whether it’s the pressed red metal that runs across the walls, or the pop art dotted in amongst older local posters, or the Fitzroy football team paraphernalia, the Napier harks back to a time when the pub was the centre of the community.

And unlike the long gone football team, let’s hope the Napier just stays where it is.


A Good Thing: the Whiskey Apple at Shady Pines Saloon

A Good Thing

A Good Thing

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I know you’ve felt it, the pangs of indecision. You’re just a girl (or boy), standing in front of a bar, asking the bartender for a drink.

The problem is, you don’t know what you want.

I hear you. I’ve been there — just the other the night in fact. Here’s what you do: keep it simple. For a simple thing is often A Good Thing.

On this particular night I found myself at Shady Pines Saloon, down a laneway in Darlinghurst. And a word of warning up top: if you have peanut allergy this is not the place for you. Some 10 years after the bar opened in 2010, these days there are fewer cracked peanut shells littering the floors — they don’t encourage the practice perhaps as they once did — and Shady is known for three things: peanuts, whiskey, and taxidermy.

And there’s a few more things you can add to the list: hospitality, for one — the bartenders here are great and play the role of chief mischief maker more often than not — and their Whiskey Apple.

Despite the huge array of whiskey, the great beers in the fridge, and the well-executed cocktails on the short and sharp list, it was a Whiskey Apple to start with. Simple.

(Full disclousure: it was followed up by a particularly tasty Irish Coffee from the menu.)

The Whiskey Apple at Shady Pines Saloon is a simple affair: some good American whiskey — a spicy rye, if you please — and crisp green apples. Put the whiskey in a tumbler, blitz the apples in a juicer, then bring it all together with a little ice and you’re done.

You can’t replicate it with store bought apple juice — it’s precisely the fluffy, airy texture of the juice that comes from blitzing the apples in a juicer that defines the drink.

It is such a refreshing and pleasing delivery vehicle for rye whiskey that bartenders have spread the drink around Australia, and further afield to New York and beyond.

Like I said, it’s a simple thing — whiskey plus apple — but it’s very much A Good Thing.

Shady Pines Saloon
4/256 Crown St, Darlinghurst
Open 7 days a week, 4pm to midnight.

It’s a simple drink — one you could easily make at home. But your whiskey collection at home is unlikely to match the back bar delights at Shady Pines Saloon. And your significant other would not look favourably at you dropping peanut shells on the floor whilst you drink your Whiskey Apple.


A Good Thing: The Duke of Clarence’s fish finger sandwich

One Good Thing

A Good Thing

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There’s a laneway off Sydney’s Clarence Street that is home to some of the city’s best bars: the whisky den that is the bustling The Baxter Inn, The Barber Shop — Australia’s most awarded gin bar — and a little homage to the charms of the great British boozer, The Duke of Clarence.

There’s enough fine drinking in those three establishments to do most people for a whole evening.

And should you find yourself bouncing between those bars, you likely will require some sustenance to sustain the night — The Duke of Clarence has you covered.

Call it a cocktail pub. It’s small — no bigger than any of Sydney’s other small bars — and it is fitted out with warm, inviting wood and stained glass all of which was sourced in the UK. There’s a fireplace for colder evenings, above which a portrait of the pub’s namesake hangs, surrounded on three sides by shelves and shelves of old books.

It’s the kind of place that makes you want to stay a while.

Just every little element of this works — it’s great drinking food.

And you’ll stay not just for the drinks — they’ve got one of Sydney’s few hand pump beer systems serving staple London faithfuls like Old Speckled Hen, and a considerable range whiskies and cognacs — but also for the eats from chef Dave Penistone.

They do Sydney’s best Sunday roast (if you ask us), and there are plenty of substantial items on the menu (bangers and mash, anyone?), but it’s the fish finger sandwich we go back for again and again.

It’s the perfect bite for a boozy night: two crumbed pieces of blue eye cod, each nestled between two pieces of soft white bread trimmed of its crust; a little watercress and boiled egg tartare round it off. It’s textural, there’s a hit of acidity from the tartare, and it is a natural partner to the the Clarence House Gibson (Bombay Sapphire Gin, dry sherry, rosemary, smoked sea salt, pickled onion distillate, and brine).

Our suggestion? Order a round or two of the Gibsons and then get stuck into a round or two of the fish finger sandwiches.


A Good Thing: frosty throwdowns at Old Mate’s Place

One Good Thing

A Good Thing

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Sydney bar Old Mate’s Place opened in August of 2018, and has become one of the city’s most popular watering holes. Set over two levels, the place channels a library-overgown-with-plants vibe and specialises in a familiar, no-bullshit brand of hospitality. It’s a bar that is about the guest first and foremost.

It’s not that the drinks aren’t an attraction in themselves; you could, if you are so inclined, order one of their cocktails; they are delicious, and if you’ve opted for their Hidden Pina Colada you’ll see that there’s a fair whack of technique applied to said delicious cocktails.

Wine, too, is an option; there’s a juicy, zesty bottle of Vouvray landing at $65.

However, if you do find yourself enjoying a clear, sunny sky then get to Old Mate’s Place in the afternoon. You’ll find it on Sydney’s Clarence Street: enter the door at 199 Clarence Street, step into the elevator, and punch the button for level four.

Once you’re inside Old Mate’s, hit the staircase to ask end to the rooftop bar.

Is the VB throwdown the perfect beer size?

It’s here where they’ve taken an interesting and entirely suitable approach to the idea of an amuse bouche, pre-drinking drink.

Little VB throwdowns.

You may know the throwdown — a 250ml bottle of beer, and in this case, VB — from cash-strapped student days. Maybe you bought a slab of them unknowingly, thinking you were picking up the regular 375ml bottles of Very Best. It’s smaller than a middy (at 285ml) but larger than the old school pony of beer, which was a snackable 140ml, and it is, in our estimation, the perfect size.

Why? Being just 250ml of cold beer, it never has the chance to get warm, but it’s not just a one or two gulp beer like the pony, so you’re not up and down to the bar every other sip. But nor is it likely to lose its coldness on a warm afternoon, the way a schooner does. Who is ordering pints in warm weather?


A Good Thing: The joy of a 5pm Martini at Sydney bar Maybe Sammy

One Good Thing

A Good Thing

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So you’ve had a day. Perhaps it was a good one, a productive one, or perhaps it was a poor one. Whatever kind of day it has been, it’s done now, and the clock says it’s 5pm.

That’s when I like to find myself at Maybe Sammy in Sydney. Their Martini, taken at the end of the day? It is very much a Good Thing.

Why? For a start, Maybe Sammy has just opened for the evening.

“The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar—that’s wonderful,” says Terry Lennox to Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye. And at Maybe Sammy at this time, you’ve seen the bartenders finish the last of their prep for the night, and it’s that time of night — as Lennox says — “When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny and the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth.”

A good thing indeed: a Martini, some oysters, and a toy flamingo to keep you entertained.

There’s something about this shift between the end of one’s day and the start of the evening’s work behind the bar. And as for the perfect drink at this time, I don’t think there’s anything finer than the Martini. The Martini is endowed with ethereal powers at dusk; it can, as Frank Bruni has written, “blunt the day and polish the night.”

Many a good Martini can be found in Sydney. But there’s something about the jacketed bartenders at Maybe Sammy, the Art Deco feel — and the fact that any list of the world’s best bar teams has to include them — that makes a Martini here meaningful; it makes you feel more polished.

Here’s the game plan: arrive as early as you can if it’s on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday — seats tend to go quickly when the drinks are this good. And you want a stool at the bar; there‘s something to be said for watching the precise movements of bartenders at this level.

Take one of Maybe Sammy’s small Martinis to begin with; poured from a bottle they have batched before service, it’s a quick and cold first sip. Once you’ve knocked that back — and it should disappear quickly, it’s time to call your Martini order.

As to how you take it, it’s really up to you. But those jacketed bartenders are there to help you on your way.