For the rock 'n' roller, walking into Vasco is a little like walking into that dream where you got everything you ever wanted.
For the rock 'n' roller, walking into Vasco is a little like walking into that dream where you got everything you ever wanted. Remember that one? That was the best. However, it only takes one glance behind the bar to realise your mistake. This is not your dream; this is Max Greco's dream, and he gets to live it. The former head bartender of Eau-de-Vie opened this den of a bar last year, bringing along head bottle-slinger Luke Ashton (The Roosevelt) for the ride. The decor is part smooth Italiano, part the bedroom of an obsessed fan and all details — a visual feast of record covers, photos and memorabilia. Just make sure you focus, avoid the temptation of the jukebox (for now) and find yourself a table.
We opted for a seat at the bar (wait, is this a Fender stool? Seriously, how long have they been sourcing this stuff for? And what does his house look like?) before the barman passed over an old record cover, which houses Vasco's playlist (read: cocktail list), and it was time to get spinning. Something about two dark spirits in the one cocktail tends to bring out my competitive side, so an Old Yellow Bricks ($17.50) was soon shaken up: Monkey Shoulder, Sailor Jerry, lemon, cherry bitters and that all-spice-for all-things-nice pimento dram with agave to sweeten. There is not much point dwelling on this one, even though it deserves it. This is simply a good drink — well crafted, balanced and complex enough to keep me sipping at it until it miraculously disappears and all eyes are back on the playlist.
Stir down some Applejack brandy and Punt e Mes with Dom Benedictine, Fernet Branca and bitters and you have an Eagle Rock ($17.50) that succeeds where the Daddy Cool hit always left me cold. It could be a touch stiff for those more accustomed to white spirits, but this bad-boy has me seriously considering a move to Cleveland Street.
If you are starting to feel that nicotine pinch (or you are just desperate for the lav), it's time to head out to the AstroTurf patio — decked out with a few chairs, chunky ashtrays and a bunch of old records arranged in a V (get it?). On a slightly warmer night, this would be the spot of choice, but even with fresh change, it beat out the jukebox, guitar-on-the-wall and sheet-music-covered toilets for kitsch highlight. Although limited, this Vasco experience of cocktails-to-patio did get my mind drifting to their Tuesday $14 lasagna night and ensconcing myself out back with a table of mates. I could even team it up with the 5-7pm Vasco hour and take shameless advantage of $14 cocktails, $8 ciders and $6 beers, wines and house spirits.
It is also worth your while to keep an eye on the specials board, which features additional cocktails and the irresistible offer of a "Negroni made by an Italian". Wednesday is Apperitivo day (5-7pm), so drop by and enjoy snacks compliments of the kitchen to accompany your midweek drinks. Max's brother Claudio is heading up the kitchen six nights a week to bring you Italian fare — think arancini, salami and hotdogs ($12-$22).
The main drawcard of this place, however, remains your hosts. Sure, drinking some of the best booze in town is a big tick, but sitting back while two grown men bumble through a card trick and collapse into a storm of amused cussing is a joy that money cannot buy.
In the end, Vasco is a testament to what we can achieve when we do what we love — even if that is heavy drinking and other unhealthy obsessions. If you are a cocktail drinker who has so far put off the trip to Cleveland Street, rest assured that it is well worth any necessary travel, and for those of you in the Surry Hills-Redfern axis, do I need to repeat? Vasco hour is daily.
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