Barrio Cellar

Callan Boys
Board the Mexican express at Barrio Cellar.
Board the Mexican express at Barrio Cellar. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Basement, 58 Elizabeth Street Sydney, New South Wales 2000

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Opening hours Mon-Tue 4pm-midnight; Wed-Thu 4pm-3am; Fri 12pm-3am; Sat 5pm-3am
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 02 9232 7380

Hey, kids, it's another tequila and taco bar in Sydney! This one's a good one, though. Really, it is.

The Mexican express might have slowed down, sure, but over the last 12 months it's been chugging along at a steady pace, fuelled in no small part by new interesting tequila and mescal. Thanks to the Agave Love festival in March and bars such as Mr Moustache, Tio's, Vaso​, Playa Takeria, Hello Sailor and El Topo, Sydneysiders are appreciating agave-based spirits as something to be sniffed and savoured instead of quickly sipped and sucked (nothing against a late night shot of Jose Cuervo, mind).

Barrio Cellar is brought to you courtesy of Nicole Galloway and Peter Lew, owners of Kings Cross taqueria Barrio Chino. It's in the underground spot where (very) late night dance club Spice Cellar once was until it moved to Imperial Hotel in Erskineville (far away from prohibitive lock-out laws).

Cigar optional: the Agave Old Fashioned.
Cigar optional: the Agave Old Fashioned. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

On a Monday evening there's more than a few blokes who look like they subscribe to GQ but read Playstation Official. A line of two-seater tables divides a long room that's a little sterile in its design (as if IKEA decided to open a nightclub) but still pleasant enough. Get in early and claim a booth or better yet, pull a seat up at the bar. 

Care has been take to not only curate a killer collection of mescal and tequila but organise the bottles by height, weight, colour, type and price along a long and handsome bar. Top-shelf picks include Fernet Vallet (the Mexican Fernet branca that's more clovey and less minty than its Italian counterpart) a buttery Fortaleza anejo and deliciously slippery Siete Leguas Blanco (order a pour and impress your friends by smugly informing them that Siete Leguas distillery produced Patron when the brand was finding its feet).

Try the Agave Old Fashioned ($22) containing Herradura reposado tequila, Nuestra Soledad mescal, chocolate bitters, agave syrup and a twist of orange. It's a viscous, heavy cocktail and you'll likely wish you were drinking it with a cigar in the Sierra Madre mountain ranges rather than a basement near Martin Place. Ditto the Carlitos Campfire ($21) that mixes Bruxo mescal with ginger agave syrup, lemon, peach and Monkey Shoulder scotch. The "campfire" component comes from the Bruxo smokiness, but if you want it even smokier, ask for a peaty Laphroaig 10 whisky for the Scotch pour instead. The cheerful staff should be happy to accommodate.

The Barrio burger is your go-to: it smacks with flavour.
The Barrio burger is your go-to: it smacks with flavour. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

There's a banana-boat load of food on offer including seven choices of taco fillings (including calamari, skirt steak, and fried market fish) and a decent Cuban sandwich ($16) with slow-cooked pork, double-smoked ham, zucchini pickles and Swiss cheese. The Cuban is the new Reuben, guys.

The Barrio Cellar burger ($16) is your go-to though. The beef still has a blush of pink to it, there's a nice smack of flavour from the grill and a couple of jalapenos (we're trying to be a Mexican here, remember) defibrillate it from the brink of cardiac-arresting stodge. It's fun, disposable trash food like all burgers should be.

While on the topic, no venue should be rocking a burger in 2015 that's sub-par. Good burgers are now the norm, not the exception and if you're a venue still serving a week-old bun with gristle-grade meat and cheese indistinguishable from a balding tyre then you need to sort things out quick-smart.

Tequila bottles come in all shapes and sizes (even skeletons).
Tequila bottles come in all shapes and sizes (even skeletons). Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Anyway, well done, team Barrio. Many bars around Martin Place are the deadset worst so anywhere serving Tecate instead of Tooheys Extra Dry is A-OK in my book. And that burger really is terrific.

Go for… a mescal margarita at knock-off.

Stay for… another round of tequila and to wake up in your work clothes.

Drink… the Agave Old Fashioned.

And… the kitchen is flipping burgers until 2am.