Hidden away on a small lane parallel to Oxford Street and with no sign outside, this boutique dive bar is nonetheless drawing good-sized crowds throughout the week. I suspect it’s partly because of the outlandish décor: there are animal heads leering out from the walls (including a frighteningly large cow’s head near the bathroom), Indian wooden statues and an overall wild west theme that actually manages to be atmospheric rather than tacky. As you’d expect in a wild west saloon, there’s a great long wooden bar counter with stools for you to perch on.
The bar staff take their cocktails seriously: fruit juices are freshly squeezed and the quality is great. Over my two visits here with the Amazonian Croatian, who combines beauty with an amazing capacity to drink her body weight in alcohol, we end up trying the whiskey sour, negroni, mint julep (which is the house cocktail), a gin martini, a daiquiri, as well as two cocktails that the bartender made up for us on the fly: a cucumber and gin number that was sublime as well as an aperitif-style drink made with grapefruit and apple juice, gin, Aperol and champagne that was a knockout.
As much as I like the mint julep (which is served in chilled metal cups), my favourite drinks here are the negroni, which is beautiful and has Punt Y Mes instead of sweet vermouth, as well as the stirred Beefeater gin martini with a lemon twist that was extremely smooth.
The bartender also made the Amazonian a Paloma that she didn’t like (it did taste too bitter) – but as soon as he realised this he promptly and professionally took it away and made her a Scorpion (a tiki-style cocktail made with cognac, rum, lemon and orange juice) that met her high alcoholic expectations.
In fact, the Amazonian Croation has now decreed Shady Pines Saloon as her favourite bar in Sydney and it’s certainly in my top three. Rather than just settling on being a relaxed casual bar, or a place that has great cocktails, Shady Pines actually combines both assets with knowledgeable staff and a cool, quiet (the country music is barely audible) vibe that makes me want to go back for even more – once my hangover passes.
Shady Pines Saloon, Shop 5, 256 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate Shady Pines Saloon?