I was recently lucky enough to head down to Australia for a holiday and I had the opportunity to roam around Sydney’s central business district with a mate of mine who had emigrated down under some years ago. Regardless of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the Botanic Gardens, the Blue Mountains or the endless number of beaches, he said that I had to visit The Baxter Inn, or simply “Baxter’s” to the locals. That’s some pretty stiff competition, right there.
As we walked through the bustling streets, my friend-turned-tour-guide warned me that it might appear that he was lost when trying to reach our destination because essentially it was to be found down a dingy alleyway, around the back of a building, and down a concrete stairwell, none of which had any lighting. Nice. He confessed to having learned to give this advance warning due to recently nearly petrifying an unsuspecting girl when taking her to the inn on a first date… And if I hadn’t known him for 20 years, I would have been rather uneasy too.
What awaited us behind the door at the bottom of this dank stairwell however was a thing of beauty. The Baxter Inn is an underground bar. More importantly, an underground whisky bar. In fact, it is a re-imagining of a 1920s Prohibition-era speakeasy and the whisky selection is vast. And I mean VAST. Like, more than 300 options vast.The venue was already packed by 5.30pm, but comfortably so, and the light jazz soundtrack added to the fairy-light and candlelit atmosphere. Even the posters on the wall fit the theme perfectly. We made our way through the throng of punters to the centre of the bar and behind the counter stood a large menu, from floor to ceiling, detailing all of the different whiskies available. Either side of this gargantuan picklist towered a giant bank of whisky bottles, each of which had its own ladder so that the staff could reach the top shelves, like some sort of awesome whisky library. I was in heaven.
The range of whiskies available went from the standard blends and entry-level single malts of most of the scotch distilleries up to very rare expressions, including Glenfarclas 40, Highland Park 40 and Yamazaki 2013 Sherry Cask release (Jim Murray’s Whisky of the Year for 2015) – just a pinch at AUD$300, $260 and $200 respectively per measure. World whiskies were well represented with ample choice of American whiskies and bourbons, Japanese whiskies, a spread of European representatives, and a handful of the more local Australian (particularly Tasmanian) varietals.And the staff know their stuff. Their knowledge and recommendations based on your own favourites/experiences were spot on. Their expertise didn’t stop at whiskies either for that matter as they had an impressive list of cocktails available and a decent selection of beers stocked too, particularly Aussie craft beers.
Being bit of a peathead and avoiding any of my standard tipples when faced with such an array of liquors, I opted for a Port Askaig 12 year old, which is a delicious dram and not one of the easiest Islay spirits to find anywhere, let alone on the other side of the planet to where it comes from! I savoured both the dram and the experience before having to move on to our evening’s entertainment, but given half the chance, I’d still be there now and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone – fans of whisky or otherwise, no worries.