A dimly lit underground space, The Swinging Cat pays homage to the classic drinks of the Big Easy but eschews the trades in the Mardi Gras boisterousness for a more sedate, sophisticated feel.
The brainchild of licensee Pete Fischer, who has almost two decades of years of experience in Sydney’s bar scene, including stints at Zeta Bar and Hemmesphere, The Swinging Cat is clearly a passion project. It mines one of the world’s great drinking cultures for inspiration and also occupies something of an unfilled niche in Sydney’s otherwise comprehensively diverse drinking scene.
The signature cocktail is the Sazerac, done to suit both traditionalists and those looking for a new angle on the New Orleans staple. One of the International Bar Association’s ‘unforgettables’, the traditional Sazerac combines five parts cognac to one part absinthe, sugar and a touch of bitters. Bearing the rosy hue of a Turkish delight and a deliciously aniseed-based scent, it’s one of the genius combinations of the cocktail world.
The traditional ($18) is a winner, with strong flavours and top-notch ingredients like Hennessy VS Cognac. This cat offers a few twists on the classic, including the aromatic Peppermint ($19), made with the rarely seen Maker’s Mark Mint Julep, and a Toffee Nut ($18), which offers an almost cassis-like flavour and notes of vanilla and spirits.
The Smoked Honey ($18) is another intriguing variant, with a chunk of honeycomb encased in ice. As the ice cube melts, the smokiness of the drink gives way to a sweeter concoction. It’s an inspired touch that makes for an evolving tipple.
Less familiar than the sazeracs, but almost as impressive, is another new Orleans native, the Vieux Carre ($19), which was invented in French Quarter hotspot the Hotel Monteleone in the 1930s. Combining rye whiskey, cognac and sweet vermouth, it has a sweet and sour punch that leaves you wanting more.
The region’s Creole influence comes through in the Hurricane ($20), which combines light and dark rum and seems tailor made for long, humid afternoons. It arrives in a giant curvy glass topped with a cherry and an inverted paper umbrella, a nod to the city’s famously tempestuous weather.
There are a few food options as well, including a charcuterie plate ($33) so heaving with cured meat it’s easy to imagine it bringing a smile to the moustachioed face of Ron Swanson. Slivers of truffled salami, fresh figs and smoked wagyu round out a feast. A cheese plate ($22/28) is similarly lavish, consisting of a beautifully creamy King Island triple brie, an Australian blue, a nicely mild cheddar and a bitey roquefort with quince paste, fresh figs and crunchy rye lavosh.
With gorgeous gaslit lamps, plush lounges and artworks that range from plump jazz cats to voodoo motifs, it’s a classy affair, a homage to New Orleans done with obvious affection and care.