Back in the day, a doss house was where characters of ill repute – brawlers, ladies of the night, drunkards and general ne’er do wells could pay a couple of shillings for a place to sleep and to sober up. The Rocks needed a few such establishments, being a flourishing port by day that turned into a rambunctious area come sundown.
Today, the bar of that name is far more salubrious, with dimmed lighting, classic lamps, old wooden furniture and bookshelves lined with vintage leather-bound books. It’s set up as a catacomb of smaller rooms, one being a former opium den decked out with Chinese dragon paraphernalia. The whole venue is heritage listed and its low ceilings, rough-hewn sandstone walls and wooden floors make for a characterful setting.
Knowledgeable bar staff can help you navigate a whisky list that is surely one of the city’s most extensive, with more than 160 varieties currently on offer and plans to add even more. It spans everything from classic American bourbons to the green apple notes of Irish whiskeys and a range of bottles from the fast-rising Japanese distillers.
Knowledgeable bar staff can help you navigate a whisky list that is surely one of the city’s most extensive.
Good choices include the Talisker Port Ruighe, an interesting port-finished variant which has been fashioned as a tribute to the seafarers of yore. With a long finish and notes of pepper and stewed fruit, it’s a whisky with a lot going on.
Another pleasant dram is the Bowmore 12-year-old, which comes from a distillery that adjoins the rugged Loch Indaal. The whisky contains many of those maritime notes, with seaweed and sea salt on the palate, along with a hint of citrus.
Whisk(e)y in all its various guises is the main drawcard, but there is also a selection of wines from across Australia, as well as some craft beers and Guinness on tap.
There are a range of classic cocktails on offer, including an Old Fashioned, an Aperol Spritz and a Harvard, but the interesting small list of signature cocktails is well worth exploring. The Dusky Scotchman combines the classic smoky, salty kick of Laphroaig 10-year-old with the pleasantly bitter notes and rich, spicy aroma of Fernet Branca. It comes with a whole mint leaf in a tin cup and has a cleansing almost menthol-like taste.
The Coconut Martinnie is equally interesting. Presented in a coconut cream tin, it departs from the classic Martini formula to instead combine absinthe and coconut sake. Lime and ginger beer add to the tropical mix and the clean taste of fresh coriander cuts through a layered, refreshing whole.
There are also top-notch snacking options from the charcuterie counter, such as the cheese board. The cheeses included are a rotating feast, but may feature a Crozier Irish blue and a cave-aged Westcombe Cheddar alongside crackers, grapes and a deliciously thick honey.
Those after an adventurous take on Australian fare can opt for the Aussie sharing plate which includes smoked wallaby and wild boar salami.
Throw in a playlist that takes in the silky-smooth tones of Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and The Velvelettes and you have a very appealing package.