How to review bars – a guide for anyone foolish enough to do what I have done

A scene from La Dolce Vita

You need a stronger constitution than I to run a bar review website. It’s not the liquor that got to me, though – it’s that bar reviews are almost meaningless within months of being written. Possibly weeks.

Allow me to explain.

For starters, it’s the bartenders that make the bar – not the other way around. They’re the ones that can make the difference between a friendly greeting or a sneer when you order that Brandy Alexander. They can make a martini taste sublime or disgusting. They can offer sympathy when your date stands you up, or look at you as if you’re something unflushable in their toilet bowl. Yet these days bartenders come and go. They are a fickle bunch that, much like geese, migrate on a regular basis.

A bar review written just a month ago might now be out of date. Bar Zine would have been better if I followed bartenders rather than bars, but I’d probably be arrested if I did.

And then bars – and their menus – and service – can change dramatically shortly after launch. Most bloggers and reviewers will jump on a bar as soon as it opens, but that’s not a good indicator of how that bar will turn out.  Continue reading

Jangling Jacks – Potts Point

These days I only review bars that are so good I want to live in them, and after several months of searching and sneering I’ve finally found one: Jangling Jacks.

Rising from the ashes of Bootleg Bar in Potts Point, right next to where Soho used to be, this is a dark, indie bar with a slight gothic vibe.

Green lampshades that the Addams Family would have approved of hang from the ceiling, there’s a skeleton on the sign, and Johnny Cash’s cover of Personal Jesus plays on the stereo when I first step into this narrow bar.

Most of the seating here is on stools lined up along the counter, which encourages conversations amongst what mainly seems to be locals gathered around it. It’s like a darker, grittier version of the bar from Cheers. Kinda. Well, maybe not.

The cocktail list is good (I like any bar that offers the Boulevardier), there’s a Lord Nelson beer on tap (Three Sheets Pale Ale), food that … well, I have no idea, but I have a vague memory of seeing something edible on the menu, and staff that are friendly.

In short, I like this bar.

The end.

Jangling Jacks, 175 Victoria Street, Potts Point.


Bentley Restaurant and Bar



When you sit at the bar at Bentley, there’s a lot of fire, spices and herbs going around.

One cocktail, for example, sees the bartender (Phil Gandevia, easily one of the best in Australia) – put a cardamom pod in the bottom of a jigger, flame it, and then add the gin. I’d tell you the name of the cocktail he was making, but I’ve stopped taking notes at bars – and besides, the bar staff here will make you cocktails off the menu anyway. You just need to ask.

One cocktail name I can’t forget, however, is the Bentley cocktail – a classic that appeared in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. It’s lucky this restaurant just so happens to have the same name as this much forgotten cocktail, as it’s fantastic.

Made with Calvados and Dubonnet, the version here adds Peychauds bitters (and possibly pastis as well), a touch of smokiness, and is served in a tiny imitation wine bottle with a wine glass to pour it in. Continue reading

My confession

i_confess_19320115Although my name never appeared on the leaked Ashley Madison files, I still have a confession to make: I have been cheating on you, dear Bar Zine reader.

Sure, I’ve been writing detailed wine reviews and covering contemporary artists such as Billy Joel for your delectation, but on the side I have been writing and editing about … well, writing and editing on my other site, Media Survival.

And it’s time to come clean.

You see, although people think I just drink, read and listen to Billy Joel all day, I actually make a living teaching writing workshops and providing editing services.

For some reason, I actually enjoy this – which is odd, since I have always detested every other form of work.

Most of my workshops are taught in-house for organisations, although I do have a writing for the web course in October that anyone can join (to atone for my sins, I’ll even offer Bar Zine readers a 20% discount – just go to my Eventbrite page and enter “barzine” as the promotional code).  Continue reading