Be prepared to wait. Another Merivale bar in Sydney means another over-preened crowd over-eager to be seen - but not seen lining up, of course. So one Friday evening, we take our place with the plebs in the line outside a furtive laneway entrance to Palmer & Co, a basement speakeasy in the old Tank nightclub. Men in suits and women in platform heels swagger to the front, name-drop and walk straight in for the whole 40 minutes it takes us to gain entry to this hot little bar. It's a dispiriting start to the evening.
DESPITE THE SELF-ANOINTED TITLE OF TASTEMAKER, Merivale is a tad slow on the uptake with the Prohibition theme. As we walk down the stairs and into a fabulous six-week-old basement bar with jazz oozing through the speakers and noisy groups laughing and chatting over whiskies, I get the feeling I've been here before. The place is eerily similar to the Baxter Inn on Clarence Street, another basement speakeasy from the boys behind Shady Pines Saloon. Here, however, they have beautiful waitresses in flapper dresses, a chanteuse on the mic and Merivale owner Justin Hemmes schmoozing in the corner. There, there's less of the frills but a little more of one ingredient: authenticity. There's something a little unsatisfying about a multimillion-dollar pub empire feigning small-time indie bar.
THERE'S NO DOUBT the bar has been done well. The exposed brick of the old tank stream arches beautifully over the small bar counters. Huge hunks of cured meats hang in the charcuterie. Even down to the glassware and the spirits, many of which are not available anywhere else in the country, this place is supremely polished. The cocktail menu is short and precise, consisting of some in-house creations and some jazzed-up Prohibition drinks. The former are much more impressive and are theatrically whipped up by a menagerie of international bartenders who were selected to be brought to the country by Merivale after a viral social media search. Six bartenders from Italy, Britain, Berlin and the US were chosen.
THE ABSOLUTE PICK of the cocktails is the Fire and Brimstone (Ilegal reposado mezcal, earl grey-infused Cointreau, lemon, agave, home-made chilli/orange bitters, $18), a smooth and heavy burgundy-coloured concoction. The rest don't have enough punch to blow my mind. Wine and beer take a back seat to make way for spirits. There is a page each for gins, whiskies, corn whisky, rye whisky, rums, tequilas, vodkas, absinthe and some eau-de-vies, or colourless fruit brandies, that are well worth checking out. Mike Enright, Merivale's group bars manager, says they didn't want to play favourites with any particular spirit so they did 'em all. ''We want to be an all-round tavern,'' he says. Pity I get a cranky bartender who seems too frazzled to entertain my scotch whisky curiosity. He doesn't even show me what he's grabbed when I ask for a great single malt. I strain my neck to see it's a Dalwhinnie from Scotland ($12) and, boy, it loosens the Friday night joints.
DON'T FORGET THE FOOD EITHER. While it's not substantial enough for dinner, it's a hotchpotch of quick fixes that are very good. The mac and cheese ($8) and the generous charcuterie boards are fantastic. Honourable mentions to the chicken matzo ball soup ($9.50) and veal meatballs and pickles ($9.50). Take away the ''prat factor'' - smarmy door hosts, queue-jumpers and Merivale minions - and there's a good night to be had here.
Palmer & Co
Address Abercrombie Lane, city, 9240 3172
Open Mon-Thurs, 5pm-5am; Fri, 3pm-5am; Sat, 5pm-5am
YOU’LL LOVE IT IF you’re always keen to check out the next new hot bar.
YOU’LL HATE IT IF lines and pushy types easily ruin your night.
GO FOR Fire and Brimstone, mac and cheese, eau-de-vies.
IT’LL COST YOU cocktails $15-$18, whisky by the glass $8-$35, charcuterie boards $17-$51.
- (02) 9240 3172
- Opening Hours - Mon-Thurs 5pm-5am, Fri 3pm-5am, Sat 5pm-5am.
- Author - Rachel Olding