Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Basement

7 Macquarie Place, Sydney

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A mate’s band, The Little Stevies, was playing at The Basement last Friday night, and the stars aligned when we looked through our deck of Bar Secrets cards and found the old darling represented.
Awww. The Basement. We’ve both worked in music in some capacity for the last three thousand years, so we have a soft spot for this joint. If you live in Sydney and have been seeing live music for any of the last forty years, there’s a good chance you’ve ended up in this venue at some point. The Basement is all about the music, which is lucky, really, as the toilets are completely mank. But more about that later.

For those about to rock, we salute you. And also drink you a little bit.

You can always find at least one of us near a crotch. 

GOT WOOD Located on the cusp of the CBD and Circular Quay, The Basement is just that, a basement. The main entrance used to be on Reiby Place, a laneway that became exponentially harder to find the more schooners you’d downed previously. These days, entry is via the more user-friendly Macquarie Place, with the addition of outdoor seating and a strangely incongruous upstairs bar. For those familiar with the existing Basement, you know that it’s dark, wooden, band-poster-riddled and awesome, but for some reason this homely decor doesn’t reach street level. The top bar is quite a contrast - light, open, sleek and minimal.

Also, sometimes the art emits an eerie glow.

 MOVE ALONG, PLEASE. Not being able to find a seat upstairs, we wandered down the ramp to the main downstairs bar, which is like boarding a submarine bound for rock (and jazz and soul and folk-country-fuzz-fusion). The first outstandingly polite and friendly staff member started his comely banter by telling us we’d just missed happy hour. Way to politely and endearingly deflate a girl, man. After our first (full-priced at $7.50) drink and a joyous appreciation of The Little Stevies’ soundcheck, another outstandingly polite and friendly staff member asked us to move into the side bar known as The Green Room, presumably so they could set the main room up for the gig. After a while, we decided to move upstairs to round out our review, where we were told by a third outstandingly polite and friendly staff member that if we were here for the show, we could move downstairs if we wanted to. Our bottoms were slutty that night, dear friends.

This is just the soundcheck. For the actual gig, he turns around.

THE GREEN ROOM This is a pleasant, woody space with two main features – a warm, close-quarters bar and a pool table. Consequently, it reminded us of our university years, such was our fierce dedication to the book-learnin’ arts. This is a quieter space than the main room, so it’s great for a pre-gig feed or to get to know the skinny-jeaned scruffy gent you’ve just been eyeing off between sets, but its main purpose is to remind us of Van Gogh paintings.

The Night Cafe in the Place Lamartine in Arles

The pool table bit at the Basement. UNCANNY.

UPSTAIRS We understand the need to diversify and perhaps attract patrons other than just music punters, which is how we explained the completely different décor and atmosphere in the upstairs bar to ourselves. Maybe they want to create a nice little cocktail bar that stands alone from the main room? Well that’s all fine and good, but THEY DON’T SERVE COCKTAILS. When the (outstandingly polite and friendly) barman said they didn’t serve cocktails upstairs, he was greeted with two very confused and hurt facial expressions. This is the part of the venue that screams cocktails. It makes no sense! If you’re going to just serve beer and basics, at least make it look the part so our expectations are met. After collecting ourselves, it was downstairs to the heart of the beast, and what a beast it is.

DOWNSTAIRS The thing we love most about the basement is that there are bill posters for bands covering every inch of the walls (and some parts of the ceiling), making it impossible to tell what colour the walls actually are. It’s like the history of music did a glorious wet-burp in black, white and go cat go. You immediately feel in the mood to see some music, and with not a window in sight, low ceilings and dim lighting, you instantly feel like you are in some bar in New York and someone should jump on the grand piano and play something dirty and... maybe that’s just us. The room is large and set up for patrons wishing to partake in dinner and a show, and anyone who knows us understands that we get a little silly over dinner and a show. Especially the dinner and show part!

YOU GLORIOUS BASTARDS The staff in this place are second to none, and perhaps this is one of the differences between a bar and a music venue. We don’t think we’ve ever seen a place with such a consistently genuine and heart-warming crew manning and womaning the decks. Patrons vary depending on who’s on the stage, but being mostly a music crowd, they’re often interesting, vaguely alternative and less likely than just about any other bunch of drunk people to cause trouble or get nasty (please see special subjects under the headings Licensing Laws, The Hoey, The Annandale, The Tote, et cetera ad nauseam). Right on.

CHOONS Wanna know what the music’s like at The Basement? Read your ticket, idiot. Sheesh. Do we gotta do everything? You can see performers at The Basement that you can’t see anywhere else, and it remains an absolute staple of the Sydney music scene, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes avant-garde. Bless it. Bless it a lot. Unfortunately, before the show started, a Sting album was playing over the sound system. We wouldn’t have noticed that it was a Sting CD, so unobtrusive was the volume, except that every two minutes or so, the thing skipped like crazy. You know what’s worse than listening to a whole Sting CD? Listening to one that goes “I’m an Englishman in New YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR….”.

THROUGH THAT DOOR, JUST FOLLOW YOUR NOSE The toilets are not good. It’s a bit like someone cut the toilets out of a bowlo or a rural airport and transferred them here. Except of course, we’re not sure that bowlo or country airport toilets have vending machines dispensing Wipe-On Sex Appeal in them.
Yeah. That's called "sweat" where we're from.

 Beige, ecru and off-white, the facilities are badly in need of a renovation, even taking our low standards into account. There are two cubicles in the Ladies, which for a venue that has live entertainment with gaps in between sets is like booking a stall at a Queuing Expo. You put two hundred people in a room with a show and some drinks, and you have at least fifty people waiting for a gap between sets to go to the toilet. It’s science.

AND THE NOMS ARE… There’s both fancy-schmancy meals and classic pubby-bistro meals available at The Basement – the former from 7:30pm, usually with a ‘dinner and show’ ticket, and the latter available most of the time. We opted for The Basement Burger and The Basement BLT from the Bistro menu, because we dig consistency, alliteration, and big fat chips.

B is also for Bacon and Blocked Artieries.

Delicious, massive, and we’d better add another kilometre to our jog next week. The only odd thing was that once you’ve ordered your Bistro food at the bar, you’re asked to check back in ten minutes to see if it’s ready and pick it up. This can mean more than one trip to the bar, and the first time we’ve ever missed those buzzy little light-up spaceships you get in other bars to let you know when your food’s ready.

Jeff Duff is still waiting for his Nachos.

The cocktail menu is short but sweet and fancifully named, sticking with a musical theme. You can get a Sinatra, Stevie’s Wonder, Coltrane Caprioska, Raspy Ella, Simone’s Sling or a Loneliest Monk. We took pity on the last one and almost ordered it, because LOOK! It’s ronery. Tricky little cocktails, taking advantage of our fondness for alcohol and kitten-rescuing. Manipulators!

Cocktail menu, AKA Saucy Minx Temptress

DRINKY DRINKY: LORIN Vodka Dry- I would just like to stress that my drink was served in a small tumbler. SMALL TUMBLER. I’d love to say that The Basement obviously reads our blog, but let’s be honest, they probably just know that dry = serious drinker, allow for easier access.

I'm happy because I have a small tumbler, and because the lights are squiggly.

Great mix and ratio of alcohol to dry. I wasn’t asked what Vodka I wanted, but in that sort of musical environment I’d almost accept the staff to tell me to shut up, and drink what I’m given. Rock. The staff were sickeningly nice so that would never happen.

Cocktail: While trying to pretend I was in New York I went with the obvious choice of a Sinatra. With lime and strawberries muddled with ginger and sugar, then shaken with Vodka, Creme de Gingembre and Framboise, it is lastly topped with Cascade Ginger beer. This was quite a good little cocktail, and although it surprisingly didn’t really taste much of ginger at all, it was still really smooth to drink, not too sweet and for $16 not a bad cocktail at all.

Frank's the one on the left.

DRINKY DRINKY: JO Gin & Tonic: My standard drink was crisp, as it should be, and too small, as all the good ones are. The barman asked me for my garnish preference, and then squeezed a fat wedge of lime into the gloriously ginny drink. Sip. Smack. Slap. Lovely.

I look surprised, because it's nearly gone.

For my cocktail, I had me a Basement Mojito – muddled lime, brown sugar, rum, mint and soda. A gorgeous fat glass, with not quite enough mint but certainly enough rum. After two sips, I found that the sharper lime notes gave way to the mel - HELLO I’M DRUNK. Cool, refreshing, and long lasting – exactly how I like my cocktails, ice creams and coastal breezes.

I look serious, because I'm about to fall over.

 While we love the basement for the music venue it is, as a bar that is to be compared with every other in our pack of cards, it’s not quite up to par. But to be honest, we don’t really care. We’ll be back, just as we have been time and time again. There’s nothing quite like The Basement.

Cheers, The Basement. Cheers heaps.

We’re giving The Basement two and a half bill posters out of five.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Level 4, Hilton Hotel, 488 George St Sydney

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We should start by telling you a couple of things:

1. Although we’ve both been here before, neither of us have ever arrived here sober before this visit. We’ve already been, how do we put it... alcoholically stimulated in the past, so it was quite a novelty to turn up with all senses alert.

2. We had a two hour window to visit Zeta, before rushing off to a Sydney Film Festival movie, followed by a poker, tequila and kazoo-jam session. None of this is really relevant, we just really need you to know how awesome we are.

YOU IS PERDY. The first thing to make an impression was the light. It was 5pm (Nanna Hour to some, Cocktail Hour to others. Us, mainly) so the sun was just setting, a nice time to notice how bright the space was compared to the moody dimness of the bar after nightfall, the only way we’d seen it before. Not really a massive stretch of the imagination when you realise that the main wall is made of glass. Remember: alcoholically stimulated. But everything about this bar is chic; from the walls of glass, to the tall ceilings, dark wooden decor, and polished floorboards. There’s also a multitude of seating options: weeny chairs and tables, a lounge area, bar, private lounge dens or out on the terrace. Being one of the coldest June weeks in memory, our first position was next to the massive gas fire, located directly below the wall hanging of a man’s head in a lion’s mouth. Let’s just throw that out again, this time with the capital letters it deserves: The Wall Hanging Of A Man’s Head In A Lions Mouth.

He doesn't mind the heat of the fire. He's already inside a lion.

YOU GIVE GOOD TALKY. The bar offers table service, and the staff were very friendly upon meeting us – seating us, asking how we were and taking the time to monitor how chatty we might be before allowing themselves to get enthusiastic. This, our dear readers, is one of the most subtle and brilliant indicators of great service we can find. If a customer doesn’t want to chat, diving head first into a spiel about the origins of a drink or the fascinating idiosyncrasies of climate is not really going to cut it. It’s a mark of a good host to gauge the level of commitment to one’s drink and to the vagaries of conversation. The floor staff were exclusively female and exclusively gorgeous, so it was a good thing they were all very good at their jobs. Neither of us are shy about getting our bitch on if and when beautiful people give us a reason to complain. It’s genetically programmed into us, because we own vaginas. No complaints, though. About the service OR our vaginas.

Okay, okay. I’ll stop saying ‘vaginas’. 

 THE BEAUTIFUL OUTDOORS. Although inside was nice, we felt like we were only at the edge of the action on our pouffes, so we took a trip out onto the terrace where most of the patrons seemed to be gathering. Being more pub inclined, we love a good courtyard, and we’d venture to say that this is one of the best that the inner city has to offer. The view is of the top of the Queen Victoria Building, the enormity and beauty of which can only be appreciated from above with drink in hand. How good is sandstone?
Lorin said "That's the money shot!" a total of eight thousand times.

Although it was a ridiculously cold night, we were able to take our coats off and sit and enjoy our surroundings, such was the efficacy of the heating. There are even trees up here, four storeys above the street, and if you’re careful to blink at just the right moment, you too can look like a derro in a park when drinking in front of them. All that’s missing is a paper-bagged drink and the slurred phrase “Wha-choo looging at, yegunt?”. Classy and that.

Not pictured: flagon and scent of urine.

The main drawback of the terrace situation was easily the darkness – we needed a torch to read our menus (and to take hilarious and insightful notes). Happily, we happened to have a torch with us. You come drinking with Lorin and Jo, you come prepared. We can sort you out with anything once we open our handbags – torches, bottle-openers, little pepper grinders, musical instruments. That shit is like Batman’s dream utility belt, but without the hammy acting.

The only way you can see a ninja is if they self-illuminate.

THAT’S POETRY, THAT IS The cocktail menu is possibly one of our favourites so far. This is just food, liquidised. Some of the drinks are so unusual it’s like they got a five year old with a spectacular palate to design it. With choice phrases like “Smoked bacon and maple syrup Manhattan”, “Pineapple and coriander martini”, “gin & tonic jelly” and “served in a baked and caramelised lime shell”, it seems that most of the cocktails contain stunning novelty elements that make them stupidly fun to choose from. The menu is extensive and awesome. Zeta provides signature drinks, classics with a twist, and then if you really can’t handle studying the menu, they also offer the classics. Something for everyone, including the excruciating temptation to sample everything and subsequently forget your own name and address.


YOU LOT. Being situated in an international hotel as it is, the crowd morphs gradually from obvious hotel guests to local dressy tipplers as the hours pass. We felt right at home to start with, but all of a sudden the bar became quite “sceney” and a lot of people were eyeing each other off to see what each of them were wearing. This is probably more of a weekend phenomenon than a weeknight thing, and we do have a theory that most bars in Sydney on a Friday or Saturday night are just hell by another name, but we weren’t overly upset by the fact that we’d be leaving before the still-vacant DJ decks were occupied and the inevitable gyrating commenced. The music that was playing while we were there was so smooth and inoffensive it was barely noticeable. It was there. It did its job. Next.

WEE, ETC. We both remembered the bathrooms as being a little cooler than they actually are. Located up some well-hidden stairs, the main redeeming feature is a communal boy/girl sink/water feature, and the wee sit-down-in-front-of-the-mirror nook is the cuteness, but beige walls and tiles make it a little bland. All very lovely, just not as spunky as the rest of the bar. The designers seemed to run out of inspiration, but happily not toilet paper.

Be careful not to wash off the awesome.

DRINKY DRINKY: LORIN Vodka Dry: When asked what kind of Vodka I would like, I said that I didn’t mind. This was partly a test - the bar is sponsored by Belvedere so I was guessing that is what I would get, and bingo. This in no way shape or form is a bad thing. Belvedere is like mothers milk. That stuff is so goddamn smooth it’s dangerous. I’ve never been one to drink vodka on its own, but I could definitely give that a shot. I did make a note in my book saying “might call my child Belvedere” if that is anything to go by.

Which obviously makes this photo more than a little awkward.

My vodka dry was sensational, the dry wasn’t too overpowering and the vodka was a dream. The one thing that did annoy me was the glass it was served in. I might take this time to have a little rant about glassware. It has become apparent to me that all of my vodka drys are being served in tall glasses, while all of Jo’s Gin and Tonics are served in tumblers. I love a tumbler and I don’t understand why I always get the tall glass. It’s not like I’m ordering a cocktail or something mixed with lemonade, it’s dry! If you order a Scotch and dry it’s in a tumbler, why does vodka get the raw deal? I’m just putting it out there - if it’s brown, it should be in a tumbler. I’m probably wrong, but I don’t care, that’s how I feel.

Imagine how the candle feels.

Drink number two was the Zeta Prohibition Iced Tea With A Screwdriver Side. Tipping their hat back to the sad times when alcohol consumption was illegal, they have designed a drink so ninja-like that it manages to include four different types of alcohol, while making it taste like iced tea. Not only that, they serve said genius in a jar... in a paper bag... on a plate. It’s a jar in a bag on a plate. The novelty of this has still not worn off.

I don't think you understand. It's a jar. In a bag. On a plate.

At first I didn’t quite get why it was served on a mini platter with two slices of orange, then I remembered that in the drink description there was supposed to be Belvedere vodka injected into them. Sneaky vodka, it was hiding in the orange the whole time! It’s like ultimate half-time. Novelty aside, this is actually a really nice cocktail, a bit sweeter than any iced tea I’ve had, but still quite tart, not bad at all.

Don't EVEN tell me you wouldn't have done exactly the same thing.

DRINKY DRINKY: JO See, with gin and tonics, it’s the little touches that count. And also the gin. And.. and the tonic is kind of important, too. As is the ice. Okay, that started badly. Asked my gin preference, I opted for Tanqueray, and the drink came in a gorgeously voluminous tumbler (sorry, Lorin) with the perfect amount of ice and a great wodge of ruby grapefruit as garnish.

The tights are the traditional McDrunk tartan.

Our waitress poured the tonic in front of me from a single-serving bottle she brought over to the table, which was confusing only because the final drink was a little flat.

Not actual size.

 I don’t know how you get a flat drink from a single-serve bottle of tonic, but I was too busy appreciating the perfect ratio, generous pouring and whimsical garnish to turn green and rip my shirt over a slight lack of fizz. I wasn’t given a straw, which I liked – proper drinkers want to get in there, lips and all. If I ever commit a serious crime, I’d like to think I’m giving forensics teams around Sydney a fighting chance of scraping my DNA off the edge of a gin glass.

For my cocktail, after scrutinising the truly glorious and tempting menu by torchlight for what seemed like half an hour, I settled on one called simply ‘Tokyo’. Choya (Japanese sweet plum wine) infused plums muddled and shaken with vodka, more choya and sake. It was both warming and refreshing, with both sweet and sour notes. Lovely. The selling point, though, was the ice sphere. Yes, class, the ice sphere. Intentionally referencing Japanese precision and understated sculptural elements, the drink comes not with crushed or cubed ice, but a goddamn, mother-freaking SPHERE OF ICE. An orb of frozen water. So round. So cold. So much joy. So tempted to drop it off the terrace onto George St. Which you should never, ever do.



An astonishingly short time after.

To be the house bar of a hotel like the Hilton, you would expect great things, but Zeta is no ordinary hotel bar. This is a destination in itself. The crowd leave a bit to be desired, the bar itself is crowded enough to make table service your only option, and the terrace is a touch on the dark side, but the service is stellar, the décor beautiful, and the cocktail menu is a fascinating, creative and flavourful seductress with big boobs and a good bra.

In graph form, Zeta Bar looks like this:

See? It even looks like it's giving other bars the finger.

We’re giving Zeta Bar three and a half Jars-In-A-Bag-On-A-Plate out of five.