If you’re looking for casual after-work drinks in the CBD then it’s hard to beat The Senate. Despite being located on the bottom floor of the Westin hotel in the old GPO building, the Senate doesn’t feel like a hotel bar at all – which might explain why there seems to be more office workers than tourists lounging in it.
It’s easy to see why. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed (and there aren’t any doormen scrutinising you as you enter) and yet it’s definitely more elegant than your usual pub. The main attraction, however, is the heritage building itself: there are sandstone walls, iron girders, arches, marble floors and, against the back wall, small alcoves in which you can sit for more intimate conversations. Speaking of which, the background music (on our visit it’s a basic dance track) is quiet enough for you to easily hear your friends talk.
Most people here drink wine or beer, which explains why the cocktail menu is limited to the basics: martinis, cosmopolitans, margaritas, daiquiris, caipiroskas and so forth. Every time I’ve been here before I’ve had beer or wine myself, but in the sake of investigative journalism I now order a martini instead. The barman asks how I want it (I opt for dry and with Tanqueray gin) and it’s served with a twist of lime peel. Although the menu says that all cocktails are $16, the barman only charges me $14.
A classic martini is arguably the simplest cocktail you can order as it’s primarily three shots of gin or vodka with just a hint of vermouth (if you want it dry) and an olive or a lemon/lime twist to modify the flavour slightly. The secret to a good martini is using the best gin possible (despite James Bond’s preference for vodka, it should really be made with gin – otherwise you’re just drinking a glass of near tasteless alcohol) and having it as cold as possible, which is why it should always be served in a chilled glass. Some purists believe it should be stirred not shaken, but there are pros and cons to this approach (the most detailed article we could find on this is at DrinkBoy (www.drinkboy.com/Articles/Article.aspx?itemid=9) – and for a colourful history of the martini, see Miss Charming’s site (www.misscharming.com/recipes/marti.htm).
But I’m supposed to be reviewing this bar, not pontificating on martinis, so let’s get back to business. The martini I’m served is good, with just enough vermouth for me to taste it and nicely chilled. I do prefer olives over lemon or lime twists but then again, since most bars only have average olives on hand, lemon or lime is usually the safer option.
If you’re after food then you’ve also got some nearby options. Just metres away you’ve got the GPO’s sushi bar, oyster bar and pizza bar in addition to more formal dining areas on the same floor that range from the cheese room through to the Prime steak restaurant. In the past I’ve tried both the sushi and the pizza, although the pizza (which is done in the old, flat-based Italian style) is easier to eat if you’re with friends as the sushi bar involves sitting around the revolving sushi train (whereas you can take the pizza to whatever table you want). Both, however, are recommended.
Targeting office workers (which might explain its name, considering how close it is to the law courts), the Senate isn’t open on weekends. However, if you need a drink to wind down from your nine-to-five job, this is certainly worth a look.
Senate Bar, GPO Building. No. 1 Martin Place, Sydney. Phone 9229 7700. Open Monday to Friday, 12pm until late. See the GPO Sydney website
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate the Senate bar in the GPO?