Full disclosure: I am now a total old (almost) married woman who would usually much rather spend $25 on a decent bottle of red and stay in where you can hear yourself talk than blow a chunk of cash in a nightclub with sticky floors. Back in the good old days of course I used to love dancing until dawn and I partied my way around Australia quite happily before I settled down in Cairns with my lovely kiwi man.
My liver approves this recent change in behaviour.
The good old days, of course, includes the time I spent in Sydney when I failed to save money because most of my income was spent on booze, taxis and liquid eyeliner. One of my favourite haunts was the awesome Oxford Street institution of The Shady Pines, introduced to me by my friend Jess and a place I spent my birthday night at during my second visit to the city.
Upon being told that the ‘Pines had a sister bar modelled after an underground speakeasy I quickly vowed to visit, and soon after my return to the city had switched allegiances to this new discovery, spending many a fun night there much to the displeasure of my savings account.
When Mikey and I first planned our whirlwind cricket trip to Australia’s unofficial capital city one of the things at the top of my list was a visit to my old stomping ground, if only to see the look on Mikey’s face as we entered.
You see this isn’t a bar that shouts for attention. You really have to know where to look if you’re going to go for a drink here.
An uninteresting archway halfway down Clarence street doesn’t look like much from the outside.
Walk down and you’ll find yourself in a courtyard with a fairly run of the mill restaurant in one corner. Everyone there probably has no idea that there’s a far superior place to spend the evening just a few feet away.
Find a dirty looking grey door in one corner of the courtyard and make your way gingerly inside.
Oh lovely, you think, the storage area for empty barrels. This looks like a nice place, doesn’t it?
What an inviting looking door you’ve taken me to see.
Wait…hang on. What?
Welcome, one and all, to The Baxter Inn.
Mikey was so astonished, having muttered under his breath about ‘rape alleys’ until we got inside, that he made us walk back out and film ourselves walking in again. Unfortunately we’d already spent about half the holiday budget on drinks and wine at The Opera Bar (such a cliche by the way, but immense fun) and so the video mostly shows my forehead and the ceiling and is in no way worth posting on the internet.
But it’s not just the look on the faces of my friends as I lead them down a dark alley whispering “not much further…” in a deliberately sinister manner that makes me love this place, the inside is pretty damn brilliant too.
Unless of course you’re not a big fan of having a huge variety of craft beers to choose from, gorgeous apron clad bar tenders that genuinely know their shit and a selection of spirits so large that the staff need ladders to reach the top shelves.
^^^One side of the beer menu.
My friends, Wetherspoons* this is not.
Being a teensy bit tipsy I went overboard and declared that, fuck it, it’s my birthday and I’m damn well going to have the expensive Talisker. I’m one of those awful people who are simultaneously a bit of a whiskey snob but also don’t know that much about it. What I do know is that I like my glass warmed and my whiskey with a bit of water added to it.
Side note: If you add ice to whiskey then you’re doing it wrong. Seriously.
Of course these bar staff understand the delicate art of adding just the correct amount of water and I was given a pipette for precisely measuring the amount, which was obviously the most fun thing ever.
Mikey decided to go for the pleasantly named ‘Tramp Stamp’ from the Clown Shoes brewery. At first he’d declared that he was going to make his way through the entire list, but after his first sip pledged allegiance to this one drop and didn’t change his choice for the rest of the night.
He still talks about how good it was. I can’t wait to give him his first taste of proper British beer.
We happily propped up the bar for a while, munching on our bowl of complimentary pretzels (free food, you guys!) and occasionally having a chat with those who drifted up to order more drinks.
Because The Baxter only has a license for one hundred and twenty people the atmosphere is always convivial and relaxed. In a city of four million people this is a place where the guy next to you won’t give you a withering look if you attempt to make conversation. In fact, when I asked the fellow beside me what he was drinking he grabbed a straw to give me a taste. There’s also no posing, prancing or judging here. We were dressed pretty casually and didn’t feel out of place at all even next to a group of city suits. It makes for a nice feeling.
After a while we felt a bit bad taking up space better reserved for drink ordering and moved ourselves to a candlelit table in a corner…
I’d switched to a cocktail, having done a ‘I’ll have what he’s having” after my tasting and was having a hard time not gulping it down in three goes. Our barmaid was so well informed that she had adapted the cocktail knowing that I enjoyed the taste of Talisker. I wish I could remember the name of what she made me but, well, I was several wines and whiskies down by this point. Looks good though, right?
The playlist was eclectic and enjoyable, and as last orders were called several couples (ourselves included) ended up finishing off the final song with a dance. That’s what I mean about the atmosphere, it didn’t feel weird to suddenly be a part of a group of strangers all slow dancing with their partners. And not in a drunk-girls-bonding-in-toilets kind of way. Whe the song finished we laughed and sat back down to enjoy the last bit of our drinks.
We stayed until kicking out time, waving goodbye to all of our new friends with tummies warm and full of decent drink. If you want a drink in the city but can’t bear to be surrounded by tourists then I suggest you get yourself here.
Actually, I probably shouldn’t even have told you about it. Damn. Forget everything I just told you, it’s horrible.
Although while googling for the link to their website I discovered that The Baxter Inn has genuinely just been voted the best bar in Australasia, and the 7th best in the world. So, y’know, clearly I know my shit guys. And it’s not going to stay this hidden for much longer, get in there before the hipsters take it over.
*Non British readers, if you’ve never heard of Wetherspoons then it’s a cheap chain pub that deliberately buys almost out of date beer and then sells it at a very cheap price. It’s basically the pub version of the reduced food section at the supermarket. I once got ID’d buying an orange juice in my local establishment. It does do very cheap drinks though. And pretty decent food. hang on, why is it a bad place, again?
This is in no way a sponsored post. I can show you the terrifying amount we ended up splurging, all worth it of course.