In White Oaks, New Mexico you won't find much. It's a ghost town. The place now only exists in the collective memory of 'Merica as the place frequented by Billy The Kid and other Old West ratbags; if the saloon doors could talk, they would have had a lot to say. That's why they called it the Wild West. So from one saloon to another, Greville Street's White Oaks Saloon Bar & Dining is a world away from the New Mexico desert after which it is named. But the best thing is that it doesn't matter — White Oaks isn't a venue that relies on the theme of the southwest pocket of the States, but one that simply encompasses it in its details, drinks and bar food.
It's not so much a love of the Wild West that spurred brothers Nicholas and Tom Welch to open the western-inspired bar, but a love of the regions' spirits. The two also run an importing business — bringing in top-shelf spirits, bitters and liqueurs from the US — so the shelves are stocked with lots of interesting liquids.
This ensures the cocktail list sees a classic repertoire spun with a unique, southern influence. The Moscow Mule gets a new life, subbing out vodka for Botella del Sol tequila and a dash of some exquisite Damiana herbal liqueur. The addition of Grand Poppy liqueur and a fennel bitters in their take on a sans-vermouth Negroni gives the classic a subtle floral taste.
All cocktails come in at a standard $18, which isn't bad considering you're consuming mostly imported products. A few spring additions are set to be added to the menu soon (including a Texas Fizz with the addition of hibiscus bitters and a lavender liqueur), along with a selection of shooters. If that's what they did it the Wild West, it sounds like a lot of fun.
Hard liquor shouldn't be ingested on an empty stomach, so the White Oaks kitchen matches the booze with some warm, heavy comfort food. Choose from things like the Cajun chicken tacos, jambalaya with chorizo (and complete with a bloody Mary shot) and southern fried chicken (all $15 each), or put three dishes together on a tasting plate for $25. This stuff's good for snacking, but comes secondary to what's behind the bar.
It's all in the details here though: the special Japanese ice machine, the metal straws, the brass-topped bar. It's also in the fact that these two guys know their stuff about spirits (just ask) and can make you a drink you probably won't get anywhere else in the city. The ability to book a table might have something to do with it, too. If you don't want to sit up at the bar under their red neon sign, the space continues into the next shopfront, with many a dark corner to cosy up into.
Tackling the southern-western double whammy without sending the theme into overdrive is a tough line to toe, but White Oaks does it with finesse. This isn't a themed bar — although swinging saloon doors do feature — it's a bar with style and some of the best cocktails south of the river.