befriending a phoenix
Meeting my friend Dan was an experience I will never forget. He was a ladies man through and through and hooked up with one of my new drinking buddies that I met through an old school friend. They had a brief relationship but remained close friends due to his physique and use as a creep deterrent from unwanted male attention. Dan had somehow slipped through the net was able to entertain this female friend and he too established a brief relationship with her. We talked at the bar finding little in common other than we lived in the same area. As the night drew to a close I never thought that this loud-mouthed guy would be such a close friend.
Several weeks later it was my female friend’s birthday party. I attended with a couple of friends as did Dan. Unlike our bar sessions I was drinking, as I was usually the designated driver on bar night, and got into conversation with Dan on his normal level of sobriety. He told me he raced go karts was a winner of multiple championships and one day go into cars or radio which he was studying. This fascinated me as an old electrical engineering friend raced cars before I lost contact with him.
Unlike the bar times, we exchanged numbers with the promise of lifts to and from the bar. As Dan liked a drink on non racing weeks I had to drive more. This wasn’t as bad as you would expect as he knew the bouncers of nearly every bar in North Sydney which made clubbing so much easier without waiting in lines or paying for a meaningless membership. For months we were nearly inseparable as on top of his radio study, I was helping his background in social media and subconsciously managing him.
For a time we were able to use “This is my manger” “He’s the next big radio personality” routine to entice the ladies. Also being a go kart racer helped too. Because of the motor racing in his blood, Dan began to invite me to his place to hang out and watch races which I used to decline until I was basically forced. I met his brother and his parents and basically became a local in their house if I wasn’t doing anything related to advertising, capoeira or ladies. I had told Dan early on in our friendship that I was an amateur photographer specialising in sport and action scenes with a little video experience. He utilised this when he took me to the race track.
The race was the V8 supercars. We filmed stupid things like the drive to and from the race at Homebush Bay, cars racing and interviews with racing drivers of different classes. Unknown to me, Dan rubbed shoulders with the elite drivers of Australia as he had raced with them when they were in karts or knew their families from kart days. On top of that Dan knew some of the head of radio in Sydney and spoke to them while I vanished into the background. Once the day was over we went back home and I edited his first few films and designed his logos for his radio show.
It was around this time when Dan began having trouble with his karting team. His team leader wanted more money for the team and Dan supposedly had big pockets. This lead to Dan quitting racing to focus on radio to the dismay of the team and go karting community as Dan had become the “Bad Boy Voice” that blessed everyone’s ears when he commentated. He sold his racing gear and moved towards the radio waves.
I had moved on with my life and gotten a full time job as a telephone help desk person. We stayed in contact but were to absorbed into our lifestyles to actually be as close friends as we once were. Around this time Dan was the top of his class as his show was the most popular in the area. Unfortunately his partner on the waves wasn’t the nice guy Dan thought. As Dan missed out on a radio gig in Sydney and didn’t want to move to Canberra where he would actually have a radio show, he went into promoting.
I knew the promoting gig Dan got was an amazing thing but I didn’t know what it was doing to Dan mentally. Dan was one of the club’s most popular promoters. What he posted on facebook was liked in the thousands, what he invited was solidly booked, whatever the event people would be there. The club loved him as much as the crowd but this stirred the weasels into action.
Several factions of the club’s lesser promoters saw an opportunity to good to pass up. They knew Dan came from the north shore and that his ability to get an instant crowd was an amazing skill and this would lead to some big easy money. Luring Dan into a business partnership, they used his skills to increase their profits but as hard as they tried, they couldn’t pry open Dan’s Wallet.
Dan is a very controlling person and his wallet is very tight. As he refused to finance these new friends’ habits and business requirements, they made his life hell. Dan escaped into the booze and the women of the clubbing scene but that didn’t help but turning him away from that scene. Dan quit and escaped from that world as much as I escaped from my dead end job behind a phone.
When we started talking again I was a freshly graduated graphic designer and Dan was working as a clerk in a office in the city. Dan had escaped the sharks but they still were harassing his every move keeping him away from the clubs and also alcohol. As a graphic designer I found this very funny as I had always been apart of the boozy creative culture. I helped him through the hectic part of his life before getting him back to his normal self. Dan had learned many valuable lessons the hard way as I had tried to teach him before living my own life which too was a total disaster before I was a graphic designer.
As he had a lot of money saved up from the promoting days, Dan returned to what he did best. Race.
Dan signed up with a formula ford team and bought his own chassis. He got behind the wheel and became his old self again. His confidence was back and he was able to do what he wanted to do dramatically changing his surroundings.
Dan went from being an annoying promoter into a person you could stand on facebook. His pictures posted were motivational and a different side of him than before his clubbing days.
In March Dan took me to Melbourne to see the F1 at Albert Park. Unlike V8 supercars, F1 had always intrigued me. As V8 supercars and Australian Motorsport go hand in hand, Dan was able to talk his way into the V8 pits and talk to his friends who were now driving these cars when Dan took off two years to club. I was in awe as nearly everyone behind the wall that kept spectators out, looked on enviously to a person that talked to their heroes as mere mortals.
When we came back from Melbourne Dan and I spent a lot more time together and when he asked me to come to the track to shot him in his new car that had arrived from France I jumped on that opportunity.
His bright red Mygale named “Cherry” was unloaded from the truck on Eastern Creek Speedway and it was love at first sight for driver and machine. We both inspected the vehicle seeing if she had any flaws which she didn’t. Dan took her on the track several times as it was an open practice day and handled her brilliantly. Then it was time to go home to look at several hundred photos on and off the track.
As Dan was busy with his office job, I was being an intern in the city dreaming about bigger and better things. Dan contacted me and asked if I could build him a website that was easy to update. I jumped at it and did it while being able to use my photos that I took as a filler until I could get race day photos and footage. I built it and showed Dan how to use it which he could effortlessly.
Several weeks passed when I got the call from Dan asking me to a race. Three days of cars going around the track is not something many people would do apart from diehard fans. My job was to make Dan look good behind the scenes. Take photos here and there telling the story of what happens in the garage as the crew works on the cars and drivers. It was amazing.
Being a shadow to Dan was a great way to get some amazing photos of interaction with the crew, other drivers, fans and more. Learning the lessons from test day, I came armed with two cameras with different lenses to make for easy transitions. Also this time I worked with the crew getting to areas that most photographers can get to only when they are decked out in media gear. Taking photos and footage from three perspectives was an excellent way of learning how to shoot.
When the weekend was over I took a look at the several hundred photos on two cameras making the hard decisions of which makes it to the web. Of these lucky dozen, Dan would select which would go on his website and social media feeds. Here is where he got an amazing idea. He wanted to go into business with me…
DIVING INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE SMALL BARS SYDNEY
The revolution is upon us! The red light district is on code red and the fancy pants bars refuse entry but there are other places to get your cocktail fix. Deep in the darker parts of Sydney there is a phenomenon that is only know to a few arbiters like myself. They are the small bars that are taking over the city and changing the drinking culture of this dangerous sin city.
Now for those of you internationally, Sydney has been changed by the government to be safer from alcoholic violence that has occurred in the main drinking areas of Sydney. The government has changed the way Sydney siders drink by curbing the violence in the hot spots by creating lockouts and non-service period of alcohol. But now on with the show.
This piece is about my favourite strip since I’m to old for the sinful strip of the golden mile that is called Kings Cross. Unlike your standard stereotypical bar and club that have the common local tapped and imported beers, house spirits and mixers, house wines of two colours, house sparkling, champagne and that woefully small cocktail selection that makes you feel like an idiot when you order them at the bar shouting over the hip hop/rock/DJ remix that is just radio music mashed together on a laptop and turntable switchboard.
These magical little kingdoms relish in their individual style and influence of the classy old cocktail bars from yester year and luxury hotels by creating cocktails both classic and new-and-improved combined with a selection of beers and ciders from unheard of breweries that have a better flavour than the afore mentioned bar stereotype selection as the same with wines, sparkling wine, and spirits. They also have menus that put standard bar food to shame, move over crisps make way for the cheese and ham platter!
York Street has transformed from the walking alternative to catching train/bus/taxi from Wynyard to Town Hall stations, into the dapper happening place after the lights go out. As York St is the major roadway for many a city bound traveller, whether headed to The Rocks, King Street Wharf, Cockle Bay and Barangaroo (soon we hope), it is the perfect place to start one’s night out be it an individual adventure or a quest with a group of friends. The only problem with these little diamonds of a gin joint is that they are hidden from sight unless you know where to go.
Now to set the mood turn on ‘Can I Kick It?’ by A Tribe Called Quest or ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ by Lou Reed. You need that kicking bass line and drum beat to deal with this piece of poetry.
I have been to many of these bars before but not as a starter, snacker or just to kick back and relax place as that’s what the small bars are all about. After organising a small group of friends to show up on a Saturday night but as the night planned was cold and rainy, only the most veteran drinker showed up, my mate Pat.
Now depending on which side of the bridge that you enter the city depends on which small bar you start or finish with on York St. So we’ll start with the come from the north side. After leaving the bridge from the north, on the bridge side, the first small bar is Uncle Ming’s. Look out for the small signage or look for Roman Daniels as the entrance is right next-door and down the corridor. It is a hard place to see as the signage is small and the security guard doesn’t look bouncerish which makes you rethink his position at the door. If it wasn’t for my mate’s keen nose for dumplings we would of walked right by.
This bar like most small bars has some stairs to get there so wear sensible shoes if you don’t want to slip up or down. Enter the roaring 20’s opium den themed small bar. The style is magnificent to lay eyes on as the Asian heritage of Sydney in on show with many cocktails named after Chinese gangsters. On top of the cocktails are selections of Japanese beers, Korean spirits, sake, whiskey and other Asian choices to entice one’s palate to the orient or have a tea pot cocktail. While you sip your way through the Silk Road, have a snack of dumplings to stave off hunger.
So my mate and I sat down and settled into this starter. We ordered prawn dumplings, pork dumplings and chicken wings to nibble on to be washed down with apple nikkia. Everything eaten was spectacular as were the drinks because we had to go back for seconds. But we had to move on as the night was young. From Uncle Ming’s we headed down the street to Stich, which like Uncle Ming’s is easy to miss but can be seen if you look for the sewing machines behind the glass shop front or ask the bouncer when he’s there on the weekend. And don’t be like my mate who tripped over the singer sewing machine doorstop right in front of the bouncer, as this didn’t go down very well to start at the second place.
After heading through the sewing machine entrance and down the stairs grab a bar stool at the bar and read the cocktail list or ask the bartender for their favourite. If a stool isn’t your style then there are booths in the back or main tables and chairs around. If you’re there with a special someone ask one of the wait staff if there is a table or a booth free. Don’t worry if you bang your knees on a Singer sewing machine, as this bar is themed like an old 20th century tailoring factory. The cocktails are great like the atmosphere down there. If you catch the eye of the waitresses you don’t even have to leave your seat.
So my mate and I set up at the bar. We asked for a Bettye Lavette but the bar tender told us they were out of chocolate liqueur so used Montenegro instead. It was good as was the soft tacos and curly fries we got to eat as well. Eating at the bar brought back memories of eating in the states at a diner. After dinner drinks was a couple of tumblers of Knobs Creek bourbon on the rocks. This burned all the way down my throat and I spoke like Louis Armstrong for about half an hour before I got used to it, much to the delight of my mate. As before at Ming’s we headed off to the next place with our bellies full.
A little down the way is one of my favourite haunts being Mojo Record Bar. This little hole in the wall is off the back of Mojo Record Store where you can buy the old and crisp sounding vinyl records and have a drink after such a purchase or just go straight through to the bar. After walking through the hallway to the bar, passing the record store, you will find this little den of desire very pleasing with the vibe of an old school bedroom with music posters everywhere, nothing from the 90’s and beyond here. Mojo regularly changes their beer list so ask for the best drop from the friendly bar staff or dive into the selection of spirits and music themed shots and cocktails. If you’re an adventurous spirit, ask the bar staff for something nasty and be prepared for a cocktail that will knock your socks off with deliciousness.
Now at Mojo’s we headed into the main bar. Spying a friend and bar tender extraordinaire Dan, we sat at the bar and ordered what I asked for ‘something dirty’ and a two birds dark ale for my mate who wanted to slow down. A beer on the bar and a mezcal based martini, we settled down to chat over the pumping tunes and energy of the bar. The smokiness of the drink wasn’t as harsh as the bourbon at stich but it was wonderful. As the bar was filling up we decided to head off to the next place to let someone else to take our spots. The small bars are good like that as it has just a friendly vibe.
On the opposite side of the road of Mojo is the York Trading & Co. This little gem is an American style inspired bourbon bar. The selection of bourbon, whiskey and traditional cocktails are impressive as are the small selection of wines. The food is small but delicious and it compliments the drinks nicely. Depending on how busy it is, Friday after work it’s usually packed to the rafters, you can have a chat with the bar tenders and ask what’s the best introductory cocktail or wine or whatever floats your boat!
The trading post is a bit deceiving. Unlike the other places there were no steps! Pat and I enjoyed no more tramping up and down to get a drink at the bar! After perusing the cocktail list which is a must. Pat decided on another dark beer while I had an ultimate dark and stormy. These drinks were to die for just like everywhere else. We walked round the corner of the small entrance and bar to the large backroom and grabbed a booth. As always Pat sampled my cocktail to his knowledge said it was worthy to be drunk at again. The friendly wait staff passed us menus and water, which we read and drank. As we had already eaten, all we could look and salivate over the tasty sounding dinners. We bother vowed after we finished our drinks, to return and eat at a later date.
Another personal favourite of mine Spooning Goats or The SG. On the York Trading & Co. side you will find this quirky small bar, with Star Wars space ships, He Man tap huggers, goat photographs, connect four games, old school table-top arcade game station and Sega Saturn in the corner. Once more down the stairs and directly opposite a convince store, you will enter the home of some of the best classical inspired cocktails ever created. If you’re there early enough you can munch on the home made pasties or just read the cocktail list for the classics or the new flavours that are on the board for the magician of a mixologist to concoct in his cauldron. While you wait you can check out the modern art under the hammer or play a game or two of connect4. With drink in hand head to a couch or the games and take a load off in the That 70’s show style settings.
Pat and I trooped down the stairs once more to our dismay only to return to our favourite haunt of York St. Once at the bar we had some of our favourites mine being a Mayan mule and Pat’s old fashioned. With drink in hand we sat at a table and played several games of connect four or one of the many variants there. As we both started cheating we moved onto the old Sega Saturn to play some Sonic the Hedgehog. After much trash talking and banter we moved onto the last stop of the tour.
On the Mojo side of York St once more you will find The Barber Shop. The front is an actual barbershop and you have to walk through it to go up stairs to the bar. Now this gin joint has a different vibe as you can get a shave and a haircut and a drink or just a drink if you prefer. With a small choice of wines, beers and ciders but primarily this is a gin joint boasting over 30 different varieties to spice up your classic G and T. Whiskey is also on the menu with Irish, single malts, blended and classic American style. Food wise its snack city with cheese or ham platters. Hopefully by now the dapper gentleman and lady have emerged neatly trimmed, short back and sides.
We headed across the street to The Barber Shop. As we entered we saw the barber chairs and the leather straps used to sharpen cutthroat razors. Unlike the other places we had been, the place was jumping and packed. We found one stool and asked for the cocktail list before settling on a silver fox and gin sour. We both noticed the rear exit was packed with what Pat thought was a toilet line only to turn out to be another small bar. We looked back at the cocktail list wondering about a cutthroat razor shaves and haircut that came with a beer. As midnight drew closer we left the Barber Shop comparing notes and tastes of all the places we had visited. I have no doubt we’ll be visiting them all again very soon.
Each small bar offers its own style though very similar all are different and have different vibes. Some might be the flavour of the month while others turn into staples of a night out but all of them have to be visited in turn. A night out for all of these places was a great idea and with the knowledge of these places I can now recommended them to friends and family. The only problem was this was only York Street and there are many, many more small bars in Sydney to explore.
Look in ABOUT