A self-claimed Boston pub with a crowd aesthetic of New Orleans and a hint of Upper West Side’s Prohibition culture, this six-month-old underground bar is like a warm hug on a chilly day.
Nestled off an unmarked alleyway in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, The Baxter Inn is every whiskey lover’s dream. This bar has a distinctive character; its got a personality that might intimidate you at first, but two drinks later, you’ll be best friends.
The dingy back door entrance and neon-lit stairway warm you up for an unpredictable experience. There is no naked wall in the vicinity of this drinking den, as every brick wall is either covered in vintage boxing posters, alcohol bottles or bartending trophies.
When co-owner, Anton Forte, opened the bar, he intended to add another chapter to Sydney’s speakeasy drinking culture, but instead it gave birth to something else.
“We’ve based the joint around a turn of the century – We imagined a space that would have been quite grand when first built, but slowly deteriorate into a sleazy dive, filled with shoty characters,” says Forte. Ironically so, the patrons seen in The Baxter Inn are a nostalgic mix of corporate business-type and quirky youngsters. Come donning a three-piece suit or a ‘20s style shimmery flapper dress, this bar has no limitations for the dress code. Channel Marlene Dietrich, James Bond or Whitey Bulger, whoever you wish, as each of these characters are a familiar face at The Baxter Inn.
The Gatsby feel bounces off the brick walls, as the rhythmic tunes of jazz music hum out of the Boss speakers. But you won’t really be listening to the music when there’s an extensive wine cognac and whiskey list at your disposal.
The bar glistens with over 300 varieties of whiskeys available, and if you’re lucky, the well dressed and ridiculously charming bar staff might help you narrow your options down with an instantaneous wine tasting class. You name an alcohol, and the gentleman behind the bar will pour it for you. Although, do keep in mind, this action might only be provoked to favour the opposite sex, preferably with red lips and finger wave curls. The bartenders seem to prefer that as they look like a visiting batch from the bygone era.
With such a raw aesthetic and vintage feel to the place, Forte ensures he maintains the authenticity for all aspects of the business. Rightly so, the marketing rules for The Baxter Inn are atypical, especially when placed in the sea of social media of the present times. The language of Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter is alien for this 21st century bar, so much so that you’d even struggle to find a contact number.
The owners have consciously kept the website fuss and animation free, aiding to their “absolutely no bookings, no doorlist, no functions, everyone is welcome” policy. Forte prides on this disconnection as he considers social media marketing to be “boring, tedious and relentless”. Despite steering away from new media and technology, The Baxter Inn still manages to draw a full house of 160 whiskey lovers week-by-week, hereby proving the power of word-of-mouth promotion.
Offering refuge to everyone overwhelmed by their fast-paced life, The Baxter Inn is the perfect spot to ignite your brown liquor fire and snack on the never-ending plate of complimentary pretzels, all night long.
The Baxter Inn, 152-156 Clarence Street, Sydney
Drinks 8.5 Ambience 9 Service 10
Photos by Tim Frawley