Out of Australia’s two major cities – Sydney and Melbourne, the latter always had the edge when it comes to their Bar/venue culture. Restrictive licensing rules and planning regimes meant that in Sydney one could find bars rather concentrated on High Streets and smaller/hidden places would find it hard to survive. The Baxter Inn is a perfect example of what can happen when rules change and the door is opened for bespoke and intimate venues to thrive. Some may call it a ‘Speak Easy’ (a term which recently often gets misused), some simply see it as Sydney’s best kept secret. Fact is, the Baxter Inn offers a unique experience, Sydney’s best Whisky selection, and best informed staff to go along.
Once you made your way into an unsuspicious backstreet courtyard (past a few other bars that serve as decoys) and you are lucky enough to meet a soul who tells you: “yes it’s down here”, you walk down a back-of-house staircase and seemingly straight into the garbage room. Right when you think the garbage-shoot is behind the next door, you find yourself in a different world just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole (well, I might be going over the top here): There you are in an elongated basement bar (a former loading dock) clad in warm wooden panels and wax dripping from an array of candles that subtly light up the space. There is a sense of an American Honkey-tonk and the entire atmosphere is relaxed and inviting. The first thing you notice is the 7-level bottle-shelf behind the bar that needs to be ‘climbed’ to reach the upper levels. On a busy night, you see the bar-staff swinging on and off the movable ladder like acrobats in a circus.
A central info-board highlights a selection of what’s on offer in with 80s style golden letters, a more comprehensive ‘book’ gives you access to the 800+ spirits on offer (mostly whisky). In terms of selection, the Baxter-Inn is an all-rounder with mostly original bottlings from the distilleries. Prices range from a few dollars per shot to a few hundred (depending on how exclusive you want to get). The atmosphere in the bar is lively, but not overly loud, bar staff are attentive and they know their stuff and the selection is solid. It’s easy to get drawn into the Baxter Inn experience and it’s often hard to make your way up back again into the real world.