Say what you will about glorious fit outs, what makes or breaks the vibe of a bar is the barmen. These souls of hospitality, the embodiments of all the best parts of alcohol, have the power to charm, ease, surprise and delight.
A case in point: the latest small bar to pop up in Darlinghurst, the Owl House. Our man of the hour was Amir. As we took our seats at the intimate (read: tiny) bar, it was only moments before he had collected our orders and was shaking away in front of us. Over the course of the next half hour, he had taken complete responsibility for our tastebuds, put us at ease with every other patron in the place and begun discussing our favourite novels in surprising detail. Soon after that, he was lighting the bar on fire in front of us. Now that's what I call an exceptional barman.
As with the service, the rule of the house is quality, not quantity. Drinks are pricey but the list is impressive, with a cocktail menu that focuses on Prohibition-era classics. The bar's signature offering is titled for Amir's favourite author and alcoholic, Ernest Would Have Loved It ($19), blending vanilla infused rum with mint, lime and Spanish cava. Other recommendations are the Side Car ($18), combining Hennessey Cognac and Grand Marnier with lemon juice, and the Chocolate Martini ($24), made with 68% Valrhona chocolate that you have to sample first. The wine and beer selections are likewise on point, with a reserve list on offer for discerning drinkers.
With the bar set this high, it's lucky the food menu steps up to the plate. We started with the Chorizo and Manchego Croquettes ($3.50), which, with their Spanish flavour, I suspect would also be a Hemingway favourite. In terms of a larger dish, my pick would be the Heirloom Carrot Tart ($19), served with spring onions, rocket, parmesan and balsamic. A degustation menu ($125 per person) combines the best of both worlds and, from the looks on our neighbours' faces, I'd say it's a safe bet.
I shouldn't neglect the interior of the Owl House either, which thankfully happens to be glorious. Beautifully simple and intimate, downstairs is essentially exposed brick, candles and the long ten person bar. Upstairs boasts a little more detail, with hard cover books, cacti, an antique mirror and a typewriter scattered around the space. A small veranda promises it's own type of intimate setting, with space for no more than two couples.
The Owl House is a secluded treat which delivers on all its promises. If only for the conversation, it's definitely worth a visit now and then.