When it comes to small bars, there are a number of key qualities that when done right almost guarantee success. First and foremost there’s the booze and people serving it, and of course you can’t go past venue, including location, ambience and layout. Secret Garden Bar in Enmore has managed to nail each one firmly on the head, and with it once again reinforced that if you’re a fan of fun, the inner west needs to be your playground.
Brain child of ex-law student Ashleigh Cavagnino and Jacqui 'DJ CUNNINGPANTS' Cunningham (organiser of undoubtedly Sydney’s biggest lesbian nights, including Girl Thing and Birdcage), Secret Garden Bar is ironically far from hidden. That said, with a bright teal sign beckoning punters towards its huge, glass-paned frontage right next to the Enmore Theatre, inside it still manages to create a lush, green sanctuary with overflowing hanging baskets above, field-ploughing paraphernalia to the side (courtesy of Cavagnino’s grandmother) and outside-furniture-style chez lounges connecting tables along the main wall. Max capacity is in the high 40s so expect lawn party over crowded festival setup any day.
The cocktail menu is long and delightful. On our visit we began with a Lady Killer ($14) of Tanqueray shaken over ice with triple sec, pineapple juice, passionfruit pulp and a hint of lime, as well as the Smirnoff Honey Harbour of its namesake flavoured vodka, apple, sugar, lemon and ginger beer ($14). The former was my personal favourite but both well and truly hit the spot (the wax paper seal around the Lady Killer you stab with your straw is a very cute touch). If the chicks behind the bar are flat out, though, the Newtowner by local brewery Young Henrys is a pretty nifty quick refresh, or if you’ve got a few thirsts to quench the Mule Jug of Captain Morgan’s spiced rum with bitters, lime juice and ginger beer will keep you all satisfied (all jugs $25).
As food goes, currently Secret Garden serves just one type of dish: the gluten-free Columbian cornmeal snack widely known as arepas. And, quite frankly, they serve it good. These soft and plump little pockets come with your choice of filling. The spicy pulled beef with tomato salsa or the pulled pork are by far the best ($8), but if you’re not into meat, you can opt for either a three cheese ($5) or black bean and feta ($6). Both, any vegos out there will be happy to hear, are very tasty.
All in all as small bars go there’s a lot to love about Secret Garden. There's DJ sets most days (including Cunningham herself from time to time), Wednesday night Wolves & Lace events showcasing all sorts of creative happenings (such as live graffiti and 3D artists at work), the toilet designed and painted by local talent Takie, as well as a genuinely welcoming vibe. If all of that and more doesn’t indicate a successful venture, then to be honest, we don’t know what does.