In between the nightclubs, strip joints and kebab shops, the Kings Cross end of Darlinghurst Road now boasts its first ''small bar''. Well, fancy that. KingsXWhisper, also known as Whisper Bar, is right in the thick of it, taking the spot once occupied by the notorious Cosmopolitan Cafe, Bill Bayeh's headquarters and the subject of a royal commission. The chesterfield couches and outdoor seating still host a rotating cast of colourful characters, from cops to crims, backpackers and lonely souls.
THE BAR AIMS TO HARK BACK to the days of Kings Cross boho hang-outs such as Baron's and Piccolo. There are couches to curl up in, vintage wallpaper, R-rated movie posters, original works by the pop artist Dennis Ropar, memorabilia donated by local collectors, and covers from the rebellious and satirical 1960s newspaper King's Cross Whisper, which lends the place its name. The owner, long-time local Charles Butler-Bowdon, wanted a low-key, relaxed place with entertainment most nights (such as celebs playing their favourite records). ''There's a lot of loud music and nightclubs and we're trying, hence the name, to make this a safe, intimate spot where people can talk to each other with background music and feel like they're at home, but then also have the thrill of watching the street theatre outside,'' Butler-Bowdon says. ''Sometimes it's better than watching TV.''
WE SNAG A COUPLE of comfy leather armchairs in the window on a rainy Sunday night and snuggle in. It's a quiet respite from the mean streets of the Cross but it doesn't quite hit the nail on the head as far as being a warm, cosy escape. The bar needs some more little nooks and warm, cushioned spaces. It feels sparse, with awkward open areas and patchy decorations, so there isn't the decades-old feel of the old-school Cross establishments. On busier nights, the bar sits awkwardly between two concepts. Is it a bustling - but still small and intimate - bar, or a quiet, cosy cocoon filled with homely bric-a-brac? It doesn't seem to do either with conviction.
COCKTAILS AND SUPPER are the name of the game. Both are decent but nothing is particularly mind-blowing. My companion, a seasoned barman, reckons his Blood Rum Sour (Galliano Amaretto, Havana Club 7, sugar, lemon, egg white, $16) is tops, but I contest that it's too lemony. Most of the signatures are lolly-water drinks, such as a Cinnamon Pash (Bacardi, Cointreau, lemon, passionfruit, sugar syrup, cinnamon, $16) and a Sydney Sling (Bombay Sapphire, Grand Marnier, Chambord, Dom Benedictine, pineapple juice, grenadine, bitters, $16). The saving grace is a strong and gritty Espresso Martini ($18). Supper covers a few basics to tide over hungry night owls, such as toasties, nachos, dips and antipasti.
THE WINE LIST SHOWCASES drops from Poverty Hill, a label owned by three men from the Eden Valley in South Australia. There's a merlot, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, riesling and sauv blanc, all with tasting notes and information about the fruit and maker. They're nice wines and, surprisingly, not available anywhere in NSW other than here. Butler-Bowdon met the winemaker, John Eckert, many years ago and has been a fan of the wines since. The riesling, made from 100-year-old vines, is my pick.
IT'S A BOLD MOVE opening on the so-called Golden Mile, particularly at a time when bikies and alcohol-fuelled teenagers make it not so golden, so kudos to Butler-Bowdon for being brave. This bar is not so much about top-notch cocktails and food as just settling in for the night, watching the gaudy parade outside and wondering what sort of character might wander through the door next.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF you want respite from the Kings Cross mayhem.
YOU'LL HATE IT IF you were expecting it to be the new Baron's.
GO FOR Espresso Martini, toasties.
IT'LL COST YOU wine by the glass, $6-$9; cocktails, $14-$18; supper $7-$18, bottled beer, $8.
Address 97 Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross, 9356 3746
Open Wed-Thurs, 5pm-midnight; Fri, 5pm-2am; Sat, 8am-2am; Sun, 8am-midnight
- (02) 9356 3746
- Opening Hours - Monday-Thursday 5pm-midnight, Friday-Saturday 8am-4am, Sunday 8am-midnight.
- Author - Rachel Olding