NYC’s Best Speakeasy Is 10,000 Miles Away

by Matt Rodbard

A smoky Rob Roy (left) and the Contender. All photos by Matt Rodbard.

New York City may have invented (and re-invented) the speakeasy, but Sydney has perfected it.

SYDNEY – There is no place in the world where the Prohibition-era cocktail scene has prospered more than New York City. Beginning with , and in the early 2000s, the concept has been carbon-copied over and over again to varying degrees of success.

I found a real speakeasy at two-year-old  in the Darlinghurst section of Sydney. It's hidden in the back of the darkened lobby bar at the . Like, really hidden. Push through the entrance during a weekend night, and the space erupts with booming pop music and boozy laughter. (I found things a bit more subdued during the week.) The novelty of stumbling upon a hidden bar isn't lost on me — nearby whiskey bar  does an equally good job at operating out of sight. Novelty might get me into a bar. But quality booze keeps me there.

Eau de Vie

Bartenders mix from more than 200 bottles.

At Eau-de-Vie, I discovered a novella-sized cocktail list featuring some of the most inventive and carefully executed drinks I've ever come across. There's an old-fashioned made with Zacapa rum, Pedro Ximenez sherry, muscovado sugar, and spices. The Tipperary presents Ireland in a coupe: Jameson, green Chartreuse, and sweet vermouth. Eschewing dark spirits, a yuzu mule foxtrots all over the palate in a bright blend of Smirnoff Black No. 55 vodka, yuzu curd, lime, and housemade ginger beer.

The bar's name is a French expression meaning "water of life," apt for a bar that has reenergized the cocktail movement. Others agreed last July when it won the World's Best New Cocktail Bar at the influential industry awards in New Orleans.

As a subscriber of the bespoke cocktail movement, I was pretty thrilled to visit the bar on consecutive nights during my January visit, closing it down at 1 a.m. each time. (Australia's last call is strangely early.)

Now, back in New York, I'm pretty damn bummed that a night at Eau-de-Vie requires $2,000 in taxi fare.


229 Darlinghurst Rd.
Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
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