The full, dramatic potential of the Rocks is realised with this sandstone whisky cave
It’ll take more than one great bar to overturn the Rocks’ reputation as a tourist trap, but one is a very good start, especially when it’s a heavily fortified whisky cave built in a former storehouse/opium den/hospital/cobbler that dates back to 1847.
The Doss House has certainly gone to great pains to ensure you get that real Playing Beattie Bow vibe. The walls are hewn from Sydney sandstone. Leather Chesterfields and armchairs surround the fireplace. In another sub-cave there are terracotta booths, and another holds the timber bar. This is not a venue Andre the Giant would have felt comfortable in – the ceilings are low.
The design falls under a broad subhead of ‘historical’, with gold embossed volumes on the bookshelves, a shiny pressed tin ceiling and crystal decanters saying ‘pre-war aristocracy’, and a playlist of mid-century rock, ’70s distortion and Motown pointing to a more general ‘good times past’ approach.
Drinking a Harvard is easier, cheaper and faster than attending, and you can re-apply for another course of the fragrant Cognac served up with an orange spritz and a plummy sweetness from vermut rosso immediately upon completing your last unit.
Earl Grey-infused gin, peach, marmalade, lemon and basil is a best-seller, but for sturdier tastes you should make a date with a Dusky Scotchman. The cool menthol in the Fernet Menta balances the elemental smokiness in the Laphroaig, and it’s served a little longer so that there’s room for the honey and salty brine to mingle with the divisive peaty whisky.
Prefer your history in amber hues without adulteration? Look to the whisky display cabinets built by Eoin Daniels, an Irish joiner who co-owns the bar with high school friend Colm O’Neill. He had to construct everything in the bar to be free-standing because heritage status means they weren’t allowed to touch the walls – the whole venue is like an elaborate game of olde worlde Tetris. Inside the cases and behind the bar they’ve got an enviable collection of ages and bottlings that are hard to lay your hands on, so take this opportunity to enjoy a 17-year-old Hibiki, because those are only getting rarer. Or, if you like a vintage bevvie that comes in bulk, they’ve got Guinness on tap. Add an order of the ploughman’s and you’ve got a full homesickness treatment plan for expats from the British Isles
The Rocks have the pub game on lock, but O’Neill and Daniels saw an opportunity in the lack of quality bar offerings. That’s also why they’re planning on opening an Australian wine bar a few doors down. But until then, this all-vintage affair is the best place to drink whisky around the harbour.
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