In other words, it’s full of contradictions – and yet somehow manages to pull it off.
I turn up on a Friday night to meet a posse of women who I barely know (luckily my male ego likes to be surrounded by attractive women, even though I know none of them will want to go home to meet my cat). The bar is busy, with every sofa and table full, and I find the posse defending a tall table in front of the bar counter.
The décor is quirky in a stylish way: there are gold-coloured bird-cage light fixtures, yellow banquettes, black and white photos and boxing gloves on the wall and a blue-tiled bar counter with an impressive back-bar behind it. The menu, for those weak-livered people who inexplicably eat rather than just drink in bars, is in line with gastro-pub fare – think bread and butter puddings, fish and chips, pork belly and lamb rump with Yorkshire pudding. Ok, maybe I ought to try eating here sometime.
Tonight, however, I’m here for the drinks and the drinks alone. I order a Cornwall Negroni, which is a twist on a standard negroni by having Punt e Mes and orange bitters in addition to the usual London dry gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. I’d normally be suspect of tampering with the negroni, which is one of my all time favourite cocktails, but this works so well I want to try it at home. It’s also served in a silver goblet, which my posse says improves my mojo. I think they’re just humouring me, however, and that in reality it makes me look like Harry Potter.
The crowd here seems friendly but it’s so loud that we move on to another bar, and it’s only several hours later that I go back to The White Hart with one of the women in an attempt to sweet talk her further about my cat.
This time I order the Polish Mule, made with spiced ginger beer and Polish vodka, while the woman – I’m tempted to call her the Sultry Secretary, even though she works as an executive assistant – orders the Southern Punch, made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, elderflower cordial, apple juice, and citrus bitters.
My mule is crisp and refreshing after a hard night’s drinking – if you like ginger beer you’ll love this – and the apple and bitters work well with the bourbon in the SS’s punch. I hate to compliment a bar’s cocktails without any criticism but you can tell a lot of thought has gone into these ones. Then again, the man who created the cocktail list here is Grant Collins, who is also behind Zeta Bar’s concoctions and is one of Australia’s more respected bartenders – so you’d expect the cocktails here to be well crafted.
It’s now closing time and as the SS and I head out the door I refer one last time to my cat’s beautiful champagne-coloured coat of hair. A sobering breeze hits the SS as she looks at me oddly, smiles awkwardly and then suddenly sprints down the street like Cathy Freeman in heels. I can only assume she’s a dog person.
The White Hart, 19-21 Grosvenor Street, Neutral Bay. See The White Hart website
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate White Hart?