Novel idea: Despite having 31 gins on the menu, The Barber Shop serves one on tap. Photo: Edwina Pickles
It's one of those gosh-darn ideas you can't believe you didn't think of first. A bar in a barber shop. Why, of course!
And this is no gimmick, either. Mike Enright, formerly the head of bars at Merivale, has set up a very classy little salon on York Street with a large 1920s England-style cocktail bar hidden down the back.
Make your way past the gents getting haircuts and you'll find a concrete room filled ever so elegantly with neat mahogany tables, a tiled bar and walls of British racing green.
Making grown men cry: The Barber Shop's Razorblade Rattlesnake. Photo: Edwina Pickles
It feels a little sparse and rigid but the formality seems appropriate when you're dealing in gin cocktails, close shaves and stiff upper lips.
There is a spirits menu longer than your beard and Enright's team are so big on gin, they've put it on tap.
It's Plymouth gin and is best served straight up, old chap, or as Enright's own take on the Gimlet - a classic gin and lime juice cocktail he mixes up with things such as tangelo cordial and tequila.
There are 31 gins on the menu, ranging from a basic Beefeater or crafted, dry Melbourne Gin Co. gin from the Yarra Valley (both $9), to a pretty stunning 1970s edition Plymouth Gin ($32) distilled from a blend of seven botanicals, Dartmoor water and pure grain spirit at the Black Friars distillery, the oldest working distillery in England.
If a hard serve of Westwinds gin made in Western Australia (with triple-filtered Margaret River rainwater, no less, $11) or three-year-old Zeer Oude Genever from the Netherlands' Zuidam ($13) is not your bag, the cocktails should be.
However, the ever-changing list of seasonal creations isn't for the faint-hearted and is big on short, strong and ballsy drinks served up in beautiful glassware.
A tiny cup of Bobby Burns (smoky whisky, sweet vermouth, benedictine, $19) is deceptively potent and the Razorblade Rattlesnake (rye whiskey, lemon, fennel seed honey, $18) and Blood & Bandages (morello-infused mezcal, cherry brandy, Campari, orange, lemon, $19) would make an amateur's eyes water.
The Barber Shop Winter Cup (Plymouth gin, quince, bitters, ginger, soda, $17) is the only disappointment. It isn't hot, as I'd assumed it would be, as it is way too heavy on ginger. There are a few classy wines and boutique-y beers to supplement a tiny snack offering of house-marinated olives ($6), mixed hams ($14) or a cheese platter ($14), all top-notch and served with crusty baguette.
The wine list has a Euro bent with a luscious French Mas de Libian Vin de Petanque grenache blend ($11) and Italian 2012 Babo pinot grigio ($11).
Beers include Young Henry's Natural Lager, White Rabbit Dark Ale and Aspall Organic Cyder from Suffolk.
It's not exactly the cheapest bar in Sydney but everything's class and you get what you pay for.
Judging by the queues building outside on Thursday and Friday nights, Sydney drinkers think Enright's gosh-darn idea is genius.
Anyone who can lure the masses away from Baxter, whose entrance is in the same Clarence Street hideaway as the Barber Shop's back courtyard, is doing something right.
Together with the Lobo Plantation, this is becoming the best bar-hopping part of town.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF … you mean it when you say you want a stiff drink.
YOU'LL HATE IT IF … you want a cosy bar to curl up in.
GO FOR … Razorblade Rattlesnake, Fleet St Cocktail, Tangelo Gimlet.
- 02 9299 9699
- Prices - Cocktails $14-19, bottled beer $9-$18, wine by the glass $9-$12, gin $9-$19
- Owners - Mike Enright
- Opening Hours - Monday-Friday, 2pm-midnight; Saturday, 4pm-midnight
- Author - Rachel Olding