It’s 6.30pm on a weeknight and a girl in a skimpy bikini is taunting a group of old men on Manly’s Corso.
“You like it?” she asks in a high voice, as she wiggles her bottom at them. “You like my bummy bum bum?”
The old men look conflicted: on one hand they’re mesmerised by the jiggling but on the other they sense the danger emanating off the six-and-a-half-foot tall beast of a boyfriend who’s clearly with the taunter. Before things can get ugly I decide to quickly walk past, duck down a side street and enter the placid surrounds of Jah Bar.
With a mural of animals (dressed in suits) on the wall and dark wooden screens, this hole-in-the-wall tapas bar has a slight jungle theme to its décor but the menu is strictly Latin. The meals include Pinchos de Jah Bar (chorizo, prawn and olives skewered on bread), bullhorn pepper stuffed with Castellan-style beef mince and the plate of joy (salted almonds, jamon serrano, marinated olives, parmesan biscuits and a tortilla slice) whereas the drinks are all named after Spanish numbers (and priced at $14).
I choose the tres, made with rum and spiced syrup together with fresh lime and bitters, which is served in a martini glass. This is burnt orange in colour and tastes both spicy and a little sour (in a good way), with the cinnamon and possibly nutmeg flavours (at least, I’m guessing those are the spices judging from the taste) strongly coming through. In short, it’s good. Very good.
There are four options when it comes to seating: you’ve got the back courtyard, the series of wooden tables and stools lined opposite the bar and kitchen, the front area filled with lounges and the tables outside on the pavement. Hoping to see even more street theatre than I already have, I perched myself out the front on arrival although I’d be lying if I said it was scenic here. An indoor carpark is next door, a separate parking-lot driveway is across the road and the most interesting pedestrian traffic is a bunch of half naked sunbathers trotting past on the concrete. If I were to come back I’d definitely sit inside or out the back.
There’s no complaints with the Basque-style calamari with saffron aioli and lime that I order, however, which is decently priced at $11. The calamari is tender and spicy without being hot but what really makes it is the delicious saffron aioli sauce that comes with it. Other food options here include pizzas and empanadas.
The atmosphere here is more intimate and sedate than most Manly bars and it doesn’t have that meat market feel, making it a good place to take a date. Admittedly it doesn’t have a water view like Charlie Bar or Hugos but the Spanish food and cocktail menu here are impressive enough to make this worth visiting.
Jah Bar, Shop 7, 9-15 Central Ave, Manly. Phone 9977 4449 or see the Jah Bar website
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate Jah Bar?