We’re sure you don’t need reminding, gents, but World Whisky Day is just around the corner – sort of – on May 21st.
So there’s only thirteen or so weeks to polish up on your whisky knowledge so that you can be that guy at whatever boozers you decide to pay a visit it to, and surprise / bore your friends with your newfound wisdom.
Speaking of which, we’ve done you a solid and compiled a small list of Sydney whisky bars so that you’ll have one less thing to remember. Sydney, you have some cracking whisky bars to visit, and now’s the time to get into the spirit (see what we did there?) of things.
The Baxter Inn
This elusive little whisky bar is also a must-find; both for whisky newbies who want to cultivate a bit more knowledge and serious whisky buffs. What we love isn’t just the moonshine – and there are around one hundred and fifty-six varieties of that to slake your thirst – but the pantomime of The Baxter Inn.
Through the beat-up door and down into the bar (an old loading dock), and you’re confronted by meticulously-groomed and snappily-dressed bartenders running up and down and zipping along those brilliant rolling library ladders, and scampering across the counters to reach the bottles of grog they need from the backlit whisky wall.
It’s phenomenal. It’s treat for all the senses, not just the palate, and we felt as if we’d stepped back in time to some New Orleans speakeasy. A night spent sampling the amber delights at The Baxter is like participating in a show, a show in which it’s perfectly acceptable and, indeed, expected, to get a little sozzled. Did we mention the complementary pretzels?
Hakushu, Kaukubin, Yamazaki; they sound like the names of legendary samurai, but they’re just three of the wide selection that awaits those who are burning for a drop of whisky from the Land of the Rising Sun. Tokyo Bird joins the growing list of Sydney whisky bars and they also come armed with a mean yakitori grill. But it’s not all reserved for protein if that’s what you’re thinking.
They happily grill shitake mushrooms and eggplant and, what’s more, they’ll help you match your culinary selections with the whisky that will most handsomely compliment them. There’s a range of whiskies to suit every budget, so if you’re still riding the lightening on Sunday morning after a big Saturday night, and feel like keeping the session alive then Tokyo Bird.
It’s a hard place to beat, especially if you want to go somewhere a little more exotic. But, like a couple of other bars on this list, it takes a wee bit of finding. Well worth it when you do though. Go early to avoid the wait.
Shady Pines Saloon
Okay boys, here’s the short of it. We’re in love, and we don’t care who knows it, because for us this is IT.
The whisky bar to end all whisky bars, and the only place we want to go to get on the sauce. Of course, it’s the big brother of the aforementioned Baxter Inn, so, of course, it’s a bloody ripper. You don’t survive over five years in Darlinghurst, as a bar business by taking the piss. And yet, it almost feels as if that is exactly what this bar is about, with taxidermy galore and ridiculous stuffed fish on the walls and tacky bar paraphernalia.
But it’s perfect, right down to the peanut shells crunching under your shoes. You look back up the stairs you just came down, and you’re half-expecting a couple of cowboys to come tumbling down them and smash through a table. It’s just fantastic. As if you’ve stepped into an old Western dive that’s been combined with your quintessential Canadian local ski-town tavern.
We ordered, quite literally, a “shot of whisky” and the bartender – without batting an eyelid – cracked down a glass, poured us a dram of cheap bourbon (what we assume was the Shady Pines version of a house wine) and zipped off with our cash. You will never have a bad night or time here, and if you find you are, then there’s plenty more whiskey where that came from, boy.
Excuse us whilst we rein our minds away from the Westworld-esque environment of Shady Pines, and settle it more comfortably in Shirt Bar.
This has taken the sometimes-humdrum activity of quality shirt shopping, and made it a lot more bearable. It’s very Mad Men – that’s the most common recurring comment made about this whisky bar – and although the whisky selection encompasses far less than the other bars on this list, it’s the novelty factor that is so alluring.
For many gentlemen out there it boils down to one question: Why shop sober when you can shop after a couple of doubles? The answer may lie in the flashy purple but perfectly fitting business shirt you might wake up with the following morning.
The Clock Hotel’s Whisky Room
This is a whisky lair that inspires dedication to the cause. A place where you really need to learn to love that distinctive burn, because although the bartenders will happily mix you the whisky-based cocktail of your choice, somehow it feels a little off.
It’s as if on entering The Whisky Room (the name itself invites no nonsense) then it is only fitting that you imbibe the demon drink in its purest form.
The selection is very decent, and we think this is the perfect training ground for any wannabe whisky-heads who’re keen to expand their knowledge from Jim Beam into the realms of Glenmorangie, Jura and beyond.
So, you want to feel like a boss, like a player, like a big dog, in short; like a Magnificent Bastard. Well, good sir, J&M might just be the place for you.
You’ll be shown to your seat and all of a sudden you feel as slick as Russell Crowe in A Good Year. The Chesterfield couches and the overall old world feel of the place are more than adequate to seduce you into thinking that yes, you can wring a little more out of the damned credit card, old boy.
Any other worries are smoothed away as the trolley service arrives with your dram of choice, and the only regret you’ll be left with is that those bastards in government outlawed smoking cigars inside. You’re kept warm and snug in J&M, tucked away from the harsh realities of the world outside in a little time-capsule, with only your glass of 12 year-old Glenfiddich for company.
And yes you’ll have a tin of sardines on buttered toast to nibble on, because what the bloody hell else would you have?
If whisky is your poison then it would be foolish and rude to omit a visit to a bar with an Irish essence running through its polished wooden and bare brick bones.
Wild Rover is one of those bars that’s also a haven. It’s cosy and welcoming, and their whisky co-op means that you can even track your way through their extensive collection as you drink (yay!) whilst also seeing how many of your dollars you’ve wisely spent (boo) on your new hobby.
There’s good craic to be had here and good whisky, and many men would consider themselves rich men with that.
If eating at Chase Kojima’s flagship Sydney restaurant isn’t an option then there is the next best thing – sitting at the adjoining bar to sample some fine Japanese whisky amongst a cranking atmosphere. The bartenders here are also qualified to match food with your drink so snacking is also a good idea in the case that you get peckish.Their specialty extends beyond just Japanese whisky with Scottish and Irish blends also on offer.
Step back into the glitzy era of America’s bar scene with this upscale New York whisky and cocktail bar located in the heart of Potts Point.
The Roosevelt is run by the geniuses behind Melbourne’s Eau de Vie so that automatically explains its exceptional approach to cocktail making. Half of the fun comes from the experience of watching dapper bartenders in bow ties and suspenders make drinks right in front of you via a cocktail trolley equipped with liquid nitrogen.
If you like your whisky neat with a side of old world Hollywood and a 1940s gangster vibe, The Roosevelt is perfect for your posse. Did we mention there”s also a private poker den out back?
Hidden within Sydney’s Four Seasons Hotel is one of the city’s most popular whisky drinking spots. Besides the stunning woodgrain decor and relaxing atmosphere, Grain also offers one of Australia’s largest whisky selections alongside killer bar food. The bartenders here know their stuff so patrons are often encouraged to try something new in order to surprise their palette. Boutique beers and crafted cocktails are also on offer, but that’s not why you’ll be here.
This Japanese-themed whisky joint has been around for a few years now without making too much noise. Hopefully that will change now as Bar Hibiki (aka Hibiki Cinema Bar) offers up some seriously cool vibes just off Sydney’s bustling Oxford Street. They do your usual fair of Japanese bar food but what you’ll want to drop in for is their cracking list of Japanese whisky which includes Mars Iwai Tradition, 21 year-old Hibiki, Nikka and just about anything under the Suntory umbrella. The live music, art and classic movies projected onto walls is a definite bonus which adds to the space’s character.
Heading south? Check out our list of Melbourne’s finest whisky bars