Spirited Traveler: Sydney's "small bar" boom

By Kara Newman

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With its proximity to Asia and emphasis on enjoying the outdoors, it makes sense that the beachside financial center of Sydney favors drinks that are "fresh, fruity and with a Pacific Rim influence."

For many years, the city was largely dominated by huge "beer barns" filled with poker machines and loud rock music, explains Jacob Briars, a globe-trotting ambassador for the Leblon Cacha├ža brand.

Obtaining a liquor license was difficult and expensive, and for years the more serious bartenders plied their trade in restaurant bars.

However, on the heels of licensing reform, a "small bar revolution" has taken place, revitalizing local nightlife and attracting a global influx of bartenders to Australia.

As a result, Briars says, the last couple of years have witnessed the birth of "a spate of edgy, creative bars run by passionate owner-operators who simply could not have been able to open a bar a few years ago."

While Melbourne, which enjoyed deregulation 15 years ago, is famed for its particularly diverse and energetic bar scene, spirited Sydney is catching up fast. Among the bars that Briars recommends for business travelers:

Eau de Vie (), located in the bowels of the boutique Kirketon Hotel in hip Darlinghurst, features a wall of obscure spirits, "many of which are sourced from overseas by loyal jet-setting patrons."

The baby of celebrated Aussie chef Neil Perry Rockpool Bar and Grill () is homage to the great New York power-dining steakhouse, writ large. Housed in a spectacular Art Deco building in the city's central business district, look for power players conferring over Bloody Marys, Manhattans and gin mixed with the bar's own tonic.

Meanwhile, financial district favorite Bacco () is a small Italian "apertitvo" spot run by Roman transplant Marco Faraone, and serves up (relatively) low-octane cocktails heavy on Italian flavors such as Martini vermouths and Campari.

Finally, head to Longrain () for Thai-inspired dishes and fruit-driven cocktails with an Asian twist. Try the signature lime-and-lychee "Ping Pong" or the heart-stoppingly spicy Bloody Longrain. However, Briars warns that communal tables and a busy, buzzing vibe means "this is a place to celebrate a deal rather than a place where deals are done."


Ping Pong, courtesy of Longrain, Sydney

Although the most common Australian mixed drink is the non-alcoholic "LLB" (lemon-lime soda, lime juice and Angostura bitters), Briars suggests in its place this similarly citrusy cocktail from Longrain.

45 mls Grey Goose Citron vodka

30 mls passion fruit juice

15 mls freshly squeezed lime juice

15 mls simple syrup

5 mls lychee liqueur

4 lychees

Shake all with ice and pour all (Caipirinha style) into a Rocks glass.

(Editing by Peter Myers)

(Kara Newman is the author of "Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails," available. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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