Wow. This is my first reaction when I enter the Baxter Inn, Sydney’s latest hidden bar. To get there you go down an unmarked laneway off Clarence Street and then turn right down another lane/courtyard that looks like a dead-end. If not for the large but friendly bouncer standing alone in the courtyard I wouldn’t have found the Baxter Inn’s nondescript entrance.
You then head down some industrial looking stairs and push open a basement door to suddenly find yourself in a large old-fashioned American-style saloon. There’s a long wooden bar counter (complete with stools) and a backbar filled with a ridiculous array of whisky. Honky tonk blues is playing, the walls are covered with black and white photos of boxers, plus there are knick knacks such as old clocks, a candelabra and a vintage wall-mounted pinball-style game (I suspect it could be a form of Corinthian bagatelle, but my knowledge of antique parlour games is rusty). Even though it’s a Thursday night and the bar has only just opened a week or so ago, every candle-lit table in the joint is taken.
In keeping with the retro vibe, the cocktails here are largely classics. I order the Brandy Crusta (brandy, Cointreau, lemon, maraschino liqueur – $17) while my friend orders the South Side (gin, mint, lime juice, sugar – $17). The Brandy Crusta is a perfectly made rendition of this drink, right down to the traditional pithed lemon peel that curls in on itself inside the sugar-rimmed glass. If you’ve never had a crusta before, then this is the place to try it. The South Side is served with a generous mint sprig poking out of an enamel mug, which is a smart vessel for this drink since the enamel keeps it cold. I usually prefer Mojitos over South Sides but I love this version – it’s balanced just right and the fresh mint’s aroma goes well with the gin.
The service is friendly and the atmosphere intimate. The only thing lacking is food, as pretzels seem to be the sole source of sustenance here – but considering how packed this place already is, perhaps starving people to force them to move on is a canny strategy for managing capacity.
Baxter Inn, 156 Clarence Street, Sydney. Open Monday to Saturday until late.
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Now it’s your turn – how do you rate the Baxter Inn?