While some bars open with hype, fanfare and lines snaking around the corner, the Hazy Rose quietly slipped into the Stanley Street village fraternity five months ago. So incognito was its arrival that I've walked straight past the front door several times without ever noticing. The quiet chatter on the terrace balcony above and a friendly bouncer out front are the only clues to what's upstairs.
THIS IS VERY MUCH A WINTER BAR hidden in the top level of an old terrace house, filled with dim light, warm candles, old-school funk music, velvet trimmings and small tables conducive to snuggling up next to. The balcony will do well on summer nights but at heart it's a cosy space with an old-world charm. English expat Dominique Easter, who owns the bar with her father, Derek, says council restrictions prevent drinking on the balcony (madness) but in summer she'll open the windows and doors, flood the place with light, crank the aircon and ''sit by the window with a Pimm's''. But, for now, it's dark and toasty.
COCKTAILS ARE TAKEN SERIOUSLY, with a page of classics and a page of house creations. They both change often. It's a cohesive list with an emphasis on strong aperitifs, elegant spirits and experimental match-ups. Most of them are boozy, sippy drinks not suitable for gulping. Even the fruity ones are made bitter and strong. This is how I like my cocktails - so strong you have to sip away slowly - but not everyone agrees. My companion finds my smoky, ballsy Hamish (Espolon Reposado tequila, Talisker 10-year-old, Antica Formula, Angostura Bitters, flamed orange zest, $18) so strong she almost gags. A Paloma (Espolon Reposado, ruby red grapefruit, salt rim, $15) is an interesting flavour clash for the brave-hearted while a Julep (bourbon, mint and Fernet Branca, $16) sings with fresh flavour. They make a decent Whisky Sour with your choice of whisky, too.
THE SERVICE STANDS OUT more than anything here. The staff are attentive, knowledgeable and genuine without that try-hard factor. They just nail it. My companion is offered a wine, a magazine and some chit-chat while she waits for others to arrive. We're also recommended great wines and spirits throughout the night and never have an empty glass. And if you want something to eat (the bar doesn't do food) they'll call the legendary Bar Reggio downstairs and order a pizza for you. I recommend the spinach and ricotta.
THE LIST OF WINES is not huge and is mostly Australian with some French and Italian drops thrown in. One drinker in my group declares the 2008 A. Retief sangiovese shiraz malbec from Hilltops, NSW, ($10.50) to be the best wine she's ever had. A big call, perhaps, but it is incredibly smooth and gentle and scarily easy to drink. Wines in the carefully curated list range from Yarra Valley pinot noir to Austrian gruner veltliner. Beers and ciders aren't forgotten but it's mostly the usual boutique suspects such as White Rabbit, 4 Pines, Lord Nelson and a delicious Fog City cloudy apple cider.
IT IS STILL EARLY ON A FRIDAY night when the crowd here starts to thin. As Easter says, it can be unpredictable. With so many bars within a block - Love, Tilley Devine; Owl House; Cafe Pacifico - perhaps people are choosing to bar-hop rather than settle in for the night. Once the crowd thins, the Hazy Rose loses a bit of its charm and we hit the road, too, with plans to return with a bit more fuss and fanfare.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF you want an intimate cocktail or two.
YOU'LL HATE IT IF you're after a bar with food.
GO FOR Hamish, A. Retief sangiovese blend, takeaway form Bar Reggio.
IT'LL COST YOU cocktails, $15-$24, wine by the glass $8.50-$13, bottled beer $5-$13.
- (02) 9357 5036
- Opening Hours - Tues 5pm-11pm, Wed-Thurs 5pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 3pm-midnight, Sun 3pm-10pm.
- Author - Rachel Olding