One day last year I unexpectedly finished my book on the way to work in the morning. This of course set me into a spin – what the heck was I going to do on the journey back home that day?
Luckily, my friend Miss Kate leant me her Time Out Bar Guide to peruse on the 30 minute trip back to the City.
Flicking through, reading about all about the wine bars and small bars across Sydney, I realised something important. I just wasn’t drinking enough! So many places, so little time.
So with my trusty first mate Lis in tow, I’ve been making a concerted effort to enjoy some more vino (and olives). Here’s some of the places we’ve been:
1) Ash Street Cellar, The Ivy, 1 Ash Street, Sydney
I try to avoid the pretentiousness of the Ivy as much as possible but lucky for me, Ash Street Cellar is tucked away at the back and you don’t have to deal with queues or security guards to get in there. It seems to be mostly filled with people waiting to see a recital in Angel Place.
– The ambience: It feels like you could be sitting in a Parisian cafe or a Melbourne alley. This obviously pleases me! The only down side was that on a cold winter’s night the heat lamps just didn’t cut it. We sat outside and the freezing concrete underfoot eventually started to make my legs ache.
– The wine: As you’d expect from a cellar, the wine list is extensive and varied with bottles from Austria, Spain, Chile, Italy, Argentina, South Africa, France, New Zealand and Australia. Being a winter’s evening, we shared a carafe of mulled wine which was heavy but delish. I did end up feeling fairly hung over the next day though!
– The food: Olives for me, fries for Lis (this is often a reoccurring theme when the two of us eat out!)
– The chatter: The night we went to Ash Street Cellar was in the middle of a dreadful work period for Lis. We discussed her not so nice work situation and possible solutions.
– The rating: I’d give it a 6.5. It would be a 7, but it was fairly expensive and I was cold all night long.
2) Small Bar, 48 Erskine Street, Sydney
Following on from Alissa’s month of horribilis at work, we went to Small Bar a few weeks later to celebrate her winning a brand spanking new job in a sexier organisation! Lis had talked about Small Bar quite a bit as it was somewhere she’d frequent with work colleagues and I wanted to go!
Small Bar was the first bar to open following changes to NSW Liquor Licensing Laws. It is also part of the City of Sydney’s Live Laneways project. They’re trying to make all the unused alleys in the city a bit more Melbournish.
– The ambience: Despite it’s name, Small Bar actually has three levels. There’s a window seat with cute couches, sandstone walls, wooden floors and a whole lot of people packed in there! It was pretty noisy to begin with. After a few hours though, most of the after work crowd had left and we almost had the place to ourselves.
– The wine: There’s a good selection of wines at very reasonable prices. There was a whole bunch of NZ whites so I had a classic kiwi sav and was a happy girl indeed.
– The food: Beef burger for me, chicken burger for Lis. Burgers and wine – the perfect dinner!
– The chatter: We debriefed on Alissa’s job interviews, the new contract she was signing the next day and the resignation soon to be submitted. Hurrah!
– The rating: I’d give it a 7.5.
3) Sticky Bar, 182 Campbell St, Surry Hills
I love a good dessert sticky. So when I first heard about Table for Twenty and Sticky Bar, I was intrigued. The philosophy of Table for Twenty is communal eating. It’s like a big dinner party where platters of food are shared around amongst strangers. Cute idea huh?
Sticky Bar is upstairs and although it’s a bit of a mission to actually find the entrance, once you get inside it’s fabulous!
– The ambience: The bar feels like a Victorian parlour with gorgeous leather couches and ottomans and cute stools dotted around the place. It’s dark and comfortable and has just the right amount of people. We could talk easily and actually hear each other and that’s always good when you plan to catch up ;)
– The wine: The list is loooong and all Italian. There is also an Italian inspired cocktail list that looked expensive but delicious.
– The food: $15 for a roast and glass of wine makes Wednesday the perfect night for a Sticky visit.
– The chatter: Poor Lis. She had to listen to me complain about neck pain for almost the whole night. I was in agony the night we went to Sticky and couldn’t really twist my neck in any direction. We talked about chiropractors and pain killers for most of the evening.
– The rating: I’d give it a 7.5.
4) Time to Vino, was at 66 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst, has now moved to 2-14 Kings Cross Road, Potts Point
I can’t speak for their new location, but I really loved everything about the old Time to Vino. I enjoyed the night I spent there and would probably say it’s one of my favourite wine bars. I think I need to go and check out their new venue, just to be sure it’s still good!
– The ambience: I love that it’s a bar but set up like a restaurant. You have your own table, even if you don’t want food and there’s cute books piled onto each table for you to look through. The waiters were friendly and helpful and really knew their wines.
– The wine: With wines served in either 125ml or 250ml glasses, when isn’t it time to vino? I had a lovely Pino Gris from Alsace in France as well as as the Tre Bianchi semillon from Victoria’s Cardinia Ranges. And with a long list of wine bellinis, this really is a good place for a drink or three.
– The food: Marinated Sicilian and Ligurian olives, gourmet toasties, lamb shoulder ragu were all tasty accompaniments to our drinky poos.
– The chatter: We talked. And talked. And talked. It was one of those nights where there was lots to say and many hours to say it in. I got home late, full and tipsy.
– The rating: 8.5!
5) Pocket Bar, 13 Burton St, Darlinghurst
I shall confess that it was the name of this place alone that made me want to go there. It just sounded so teensy and cute. And it lived up to its name.
– The ambience: This bar, the size of a pocket is busting with quirk. There’s pop art all over the walls and loads of cartoon characters too – think giant sized Marvin the Martian and a big Mickey Mouse. There’s nice long tables and some comfy looking couches at the end. All the surrounding cafes and bars look like fun too.
– The wine: I’d like to be able to comment on the wine, but because it was a balmy December night, I got distracted by the cocktail menu. I recommend the pink grapefruit concoction. Fresh, tangy and perfectly balanced so the alcohol wasn’t too strong but it didn’t taste like a mocktail either.
– The food: $4 for marinated olives? Hells yeah! And if you are a crepe fan, then this would be a good place to come because they have a big selection of sweet and savoury crepes. You don’t see that often.
– The chatter: We celebrated Alissa’s birthday and played her sister Erin’s music through her phone.
– The rating: 8. I want to take Ian back there cos I know he’d love it!
6) Vini, 3/118 Devonshire St (on Holt St) Surry Hill
Our advertising agency is close to Vini so I’d heard good things from work peeps about this place. Alissa and I met up on a stinking hot summer’s night and at first we were seated out the back in a random, secluded little area. I wasn’t impressed really, but it did mean that it was easy to talk as we were pretty much the only ones out there. After a drink or two we were moved into the main bar where there was a most excellent sommelier doing the rounds.
– The ambience: Vini has quite a dark, Italian-style décor that is quite sleek but not in a pretentious way. I love their gorgeous big blackboard that acts as the feature art on the wall.
– The wine: Vini has a plethora of wine, all imported from Italy. And while I loved that the whole menu was made up of Italian wine, I wasn’t really a fan of the whole menu being written in Italian. You basically have to rely on the staff to help you decide what you want. This means that I can’t actually tell you the name of the wine I had. But I can say that if you ask for a Pinot Gris, you’ll get something zippy, zesty and, frankly, lusty. I could have drunk it all night long.
– The food: Complimentary olives made me very happy. I was happier still with fresh pasta for a main and then a coffee granita mascarpone. I’ve been back since and have discovered that every Tuesday night they put on a regional dinner. It’s a 4 course set menu for $50 and they rotate through different regions of Italy. I love this idea!
– The chatter: We talked work, work, work. Lis is always good to download too.
– The rating: 7.
7) Mille Vini, 397 Crown St, Surry Hills
No, it’s not Milli Vanilli, it’s Mille Vini which means ‘a thousand wines’. And they’re true to their name with thousands of bottles that line the floor to ceiling shelves. This place is owned by the same family that run Pizza e Birra, a bit further down the road. I’m a big fan of that place so I had a feeling I’d like Mille Vini too and I wasn’t let down.
– The ambience: Sandstone bare walls, dark wooden tables, low lighting and an exposed wine cellar. They seem to have pulled off being both elegant and cosy. It’s dark and moody inside and I want to try it in there next time I go. We sat out on the street watching the buzz of Crown Street pedestrian traffic float past.
– The wine: They have bottles from 16 different Italian regions and about 40 grape varieties. Like at Vini, the whole menu (and it was a THICK one) is mostly printed in Italian. It ranges from the affordable to the ridiculously expensive. I was talked into a shiraz viognier, which is not something I’d normally pick. It was the most brilliant red colour and tasted quite rich and heady. Probably a bit heavy for a warm night but I do like it when a knowledgable staff member makes a good reccomendation – I’m red wine illiterate!
– The food: There’s a real tapas-y feel and every single morsel that we ordered from the delicious spuntini menu (bar snacks) were packed with flavour. The complimentary olives were appetizing and I may or may not have finished them before Alissa even arrived.
– The chatter: Lis spoilt me with beautiful birthday presents, all wrapped up in bright pink, shiny paper. We talked about Fringe. A lot.
– The rating: 9. I want to go back. I want to go back. I want to go back. If there’s one wine bar you try, make it this one!
8) Wine Library, 18 Oxford Street, Paddington
I love the idea of drinking in a library! This place appealed to me because of the name so we bussed it to the far end of Oxford St to check it out.
– The ambience: It’s a European-style bar that is quite tiny but also quite long. They have a few stools at the front and then restaurant style tables at the back where Lis and I sat. It’s insanely loud and at one point I almost felt like I was losing my voice, because I had to talk so loudly to be heard!
– The wine:Their wine menu boasts about 350 different types of plonk. I realise that I feel impressed every time I see a long wine list, even though almost every time, I simply find the one or two varieties of Pinot Gris and then chose between them.
– The food: We shared olives (what else) and sweet potato chips. They were nice and crispy although a tad too salty for my palate. Lis had a lamb and ricotta gozleme and I had meatballs in the thickest, richest tomato sauce. It was warm and hearty – perfect for a freezing cold evening outside.
– The chatter: We talked about how wonderful it is to have good conversations. Not shallow, small talky conversations. Not one sided conversations. But proper, good conversations.
– The rating: 7. I loved the buzzy atmosphere but this place was just a bit too loud for a proper catch up.
9) Balcony Bar, 46 Erskine Street, Sydney
Although Alissa has frequented Balcony many times, I actually caught up with my friend Lyndall at this place. It was kind of central, her coming from North Sydney and me from Parramatta and Small Bar next door was far more packed.
– The ambience: This place is right next to Small Bar, and although they aren’t owned by the same people, they kind of feel the same. Both have wooden floors, comfy couches and perilous looking stairs!
– The wine: They sell french champagne but the rest of the drinks menu is Australian. I like that they are proud enough of our own country’s produce to not sell anything else. After a few refreshing ciders, I had the Redbank Pinot Gris from King Valley in Victoria. To me it tasted like green apples and tropical fruits, though I’m not sure that’s actually how it was described by the bar tender.
– The food:We had ciabatta with balsamic and olive oil, a trio of dips and some shoestring fries with thyme and rosemary salt. It was all mighty tasty and well priced. The food highlight for me though were the delectable kalamatta and Sicilian green olives that were marinated in rosemary, lemon, garlic and chilli. May they be my last meal on earth.
– The chatter: We hadn’t seen each other for about two months so we didn’t stop talking. Mostly about Lyndall’s new job and then about the ridiculous number of people we know having babies.
– The rating: 8.
10) Wine Odyssey, 39/43 Argyle Street, The Rocks
This was another place I went to sans Lis. I stopped in here for a pre theatre drink and nibble with my gorgeous friend and work buddy Jude.
I’d read a few glowing reviews about Wine Odyssey and Mel had always said good things about it so it seemed a good place to stop in on the way down to Sydney Dance Co.
– The ambience: Wine Odyssey has been set up in a gorgeous 1880s heritage listed building and has the right kind of furniture to make you feel like you’re in an old school parlour. We sat out Argyle Street and enjoyed some people watching. I actually remember walking past Wine Odyssey before it was a bar and loving the store that was there before. It was a place that sold things for left handed people! Such a cool concept, even for a righty.
– The wine: They have a cool wine dispensing system where you can buy a wine card that lets you help yourself to about 44 Australian wines in either 25ml, 75ml or 150ml. You can even try Penfold’s Grange! I think it’s fab that in such a tourist heavy area, there’s a big showcase of Australian wines. They have an aroma room where you can do a bit of sniffing and there’s also a tasting theatre where you can go for wine appreciation courses.
– The food:We had some of the best marinated olives I’ve ever eaten. Judigans also ordered a mini mezze plate with olives, almonds, marinated feta and grilled bread.
– The chatter: I couldn’t stop talking about how good the olives were! Being work buddies, we also talked a lot of shop.
– The rating: 7.5.
I always feel so mentally and emotionally nourished after a night of good conversation with Lis. Although after all that drinking, I can’t say my liver feels the same…..