After spending the better part of the year loitering in London pubs, I was quite bereft at the thought of returning to Sydney’s characterless pubs. What can I say, you get used to a certain lifestyle when you’ve been falling out of Soho pubs on an alarmingly regular basis (stand by for the future thesis on London’s terrible influence on one’s liver). I had barely been back a week before I was already desperately missing it.
Luckily, in my absence, small bars have popped up all over Sydney like little cocktail-fuelled mushrooms. I say in my absence, I think some of them were around before I left, but I was obviously not quite hipster enough back then to be in the know. But now that I do know about it, I have made it my mission to visit as many of these bars as I can. Sure, it’s not remotely the same as the London pub scene, but it is pretty cool and much better than sitting at home, alone, crying into my whisky.
So, in the interest of not being a sad loser, I gathered some friends and headed off to Grandma’s Bar on Clarence Street. I’ll be honest and admit that my fascination with laneway/basement bars comes mainly from the difficulty in finding them. So clandestine! Fun! Grandma’s doesn’t disappoint on that front, it’s in the basement beneath a guitar shop with the barest slit of window facing the street. Try giving your friends directions to that. “No, not that guitar shop, the other guitar shop! The one across from the Games place!” And then it’s down the stairs and into a world of exposed brick, tropical wallpaper and an almost pseudo tiki bar charm.
First observation, the place is tiiiiiny. The second, the bar staff are all incredibly nice. From the friendly welcome to the excellent service all through the night, I really couldn’t fault them on anything. They also seem to be quite the talented bunch who know what they’re doing; I loved watching them make our many cocktails, you can just tell when someone actually cares about doing it right.
Grandma’s is so called because it takes its inspiration from the sort of cheesiness you’d find in a dusty house that has remained unaltered since the 70s – or as they say on their website “retro-sexual haven of cosmopolitan kitsch and faded granny glamour.” It could have gone horribly wrong, but it works brilliantly. And, cliché as it may sound, the place does feel very homey. Elegantly dishevelled, if you will.
The cocktail menu is decent enough, with the average price being around $16. My favourite was the Fa’fafene, I have absolutely no recollection of what was in it except for the overwhelming memory of grenadine and mint, but it was exactly what I needed on a hot, humid Saturday night. Very refreshing. I also had a wonderfully well-balanced Rum & Rye Sour, while my friends sampled the Paloma #2, the Wibble, Thunderclap and Mango ‘Ting – no complaints about any of them. Oh and for the non-drinkers and designated drivers, they’re happy to mix up a mocktail of your choice.
The main party trick at Grandma’s is the Ultimate Mai Tai. Yep, they set them on fire. And when my friend discovered this she would not rest until I ordered “a Flaming Moe.” It was quite the spectacle as the rum is lit and then poured into the drink, leaving the lime flaming. All served in a tiki mug. I was handed a straw and told not to stick it in the flames…I’m sort of sad that it’s even necessary to tell people that. Really? No plastic in the fire? Outrageous. I’m not a massive fan of Mai Tais, I think it’s the Curaçao I don’t enjoy, but I’ll put this one up there with one of the better ones I’ve had.
As for food, the menu is a bit sparse. Going on its size, it’s probably not the sort of place they want people wasting time eating. Bar snacks aside (which for some reason includes biltong), there are four different kinds of jaffle available. I sampled the vegetarian one and it was tasty enough. Who doesn’t love a jaffle?
If you can tear yourself away from the cocktails long enough (something I’m struggling with because I’m still adjusting to the price of beer in Sydney – wait, you want how much for that??), Grandma’s has a variety of beers and ciders available as well. So go forth, and be merry. Just don’t tell everyone cause I don’t want to have to line up.
Grandma’s is in the CBD at 275 Clarence Street, they have a sparse little website.
I’m really thrilled by all these lovely bars tucked away all over town. It’s so Melbourne, but better, because it’s Sydney. Sorry, I am biased, can’t help myself.
Originally posted at Savannah Sunset
Music: I can't make you love me - Bon Iver (cover)