Cuba gives a little more respect to the humble gin and tonic than we generally do across the board in Sydney. Often regarded as a mere house mixer drink, the oft overlooked, sometimes too tart, sometimes too bitter, but inevitably refreshing beverage gets its own damn menu in Havana bars — something the owners of newcomer Middlebar want to replicate in this town.
Taking over the former Lo-Fi space recently revamped by Romance Was Born, Middlebar sits wedged between the low-key ground-floor realms of Kinselas and the rowdy Standard Bowl space in Taylor Square. Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett 's rainbow-coloured fitout has been replaced with a subdued, dimly-lit Cuban speakeasy vibe, with low-hanging lamps, ferns and plenty of new R&B. Owners The Riversdale Group have brought in multi-award-winning executive bartender Lee Potter Cavanagh (formerly of The Victoria Room) to design and reside over the drinks menu — which puts gin front and centre.
Middlebar's main drawcard is the make-your-own-G&T menu or 'gintonic board', pioneered by Potter Cavanagh who spent a little time in Havana after living in the UK. Inspired by the customisable G&T menus of the City of Columns, and no doubt the rising popularity of gin bars like Darlinghurst's The Powder Keg, Alexandria's Archie Rose and Stillery in Double Bay, Potter Cavanagh has created one of Sydney's only dedicated, customisable G&T menus. Of course, there's local tap beers and a solid wine list on offer, but we're here for the ginny gin gin.
First, choose your gin, anything from Archie Rose's Alexandria distillery release to Four Pillars and West Winds (all around $9-11). Then choose your tonic (and add $1-2) — in case you're getting up to speed on the art of a G&T, different tonics work better with different gins. Finally, choose your garnish (varies in price). This is where things get fancy, with everything from chamomile to juniper berries to liquorice root on the table. We tried a few combinations with Potter Cavanagh's help, starting with a classic Archie Rose mixed with a Quina Fina tonic from New Zealand, garnished with cucumber and lemon. But the real winner was West Winds The Sabre mixed with Fever Tree Indian and toped with juniper berries and liquorice root. This last concoction comes highly recommended, breathing new life into a long predictable cocktail. Each comes served in a big, bulbous Havana-style glass, and will set you back around $10-13, depending on how adventurous your taste is.
Food-wise, everything comes from Johnny Wong's Dumpling Bar, so you're in good, safe hands there with dumplings, bao et al. But Middlebar is more of a libation den than an eatery, the perfect pre-drinks Oxford Art Factory gig spot or mid-week post-work perch above Taylor Square.