As some who have read my earlier post already know, I arrived to Sydney for my study abroad experience somewhat late. My summer job had gone until a Friday. I had actually left a half day early to make my flight. It got me into Sydney Sunday morning, and my classes started the very next day. Though not ideal in the long-term, for the first week there I stayed in a hostel in down town Sydney. This gave me great access to visit some of the basics that newcomers like seeing, mainly the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge.
Living in a hostel is an amazing experience, one which everyone should try at least four or five times. They all have different feels to them, but most try to have great vibes. This is ideal because everyone comes from different cultures, and coming into a situation with good vibes is often the first apparent commonality between you and the person cooking next to you.
The room I checked into had a group of five Frenchmen, one Korean, and one Englishman. The Korean was also a guy. The rooms were not unisex, this just happened to be my luck of the draw. I got along with all the roommates well and we all would go to a backpacker’s bar a couple of doors down from the hostel with each other. The Korean left a day after I had arrived, so I never got to know him that well. Getting along with the Frenchmen was not a problem, on the contrary, they were fond of me since I speak some French (something I have found to be common in my experience with people from France). Nonetheless, since they all had the other members of their group I ended up spending most of the time I was not in class with the Englishman.
He was an interesting guy. Being a reasonably short guy who was not particularly built I was surprised to find out he was in a somewhat exclusive unit of the British armed forces. My understanding is that he was someone who led other troops, or was training to at least. He did tell me about an interesting story about one of his buddies who was an interrogator. (warning: next sentence is somewhat graphic) The story had to do with tying a string tightly around someone’s testicles so that they would be unusable unless the twine was removed within the next five or six hours. Apparently people found this quite persuasive.
One other interesting and less disgusting piece of information the Brit shared with me was the existence of ‘secret bars.’ He described the place as “not somewhere you would go if you want to get pissed, but maybe to have a classy time with some of your mates, or perhaps a woman you fancied. The drinks aren’t cheap, but they’re really quite nice. It’s the type of place where you go to the bartender and say ‘I’m in the mood for something warm and a bit tart,’ to which they would reply ‘hmm, ok try this’ and whip up some incredible drink you had never heard of before casually flipping the bottle over their shoulder as they walked away.” He was completely correct.
That night we headed out. We invited the Frenchmen, but they opted to go to an area known for cheap drinks and bad decisions. The Englishman took me to an area of town where absolutely nothing was going on. During the day the street had a couple of restaurants and some shops, but was a couple of streets away from any real action. The area was dead. Sydney has a lot of alleyways in between buildings, and all of a sudden we turned down one of the darker sketchier ones. It t-boned in about a hundred meters into an area containing dumpsters, greasy back-doors, and some stairways heading down into unknown basements. One of these stairways was guarded by a man with a velvet rope. He greeted us and asked to see our IDs before granting us access.
We stepped down the stairs past piles of used kegs and other articles one might expect to find in such a place. At the bottom we found an elegant wooden door, but we heard absolutely nothing. As soon as we opened the door we heard that the music on the inside was actually quite loud and from the 20′s or 30′s (I’ve always been bad at placing music in time periods). The place was lit to the perfect level to encourage friendliness while simultaneously giving you the feeling that the unknown could be found in some corner. The bar was manned by friendly bartenders who each had perfect facial hair. They reminded me of the romantic image one has of your grandfather in his youth; the simultaneous apex of masculinity and chivalry. I felt as though I had stepped into a Heineken commercial discovering the underground meeting place of interesting gentlemen. Every time I turned I expected to see the Dos Equis man engaging in witty banter with some equally unique character.
My English friend ordered us both gin and tonics. We sipped them while engaging in a conversation that was continually interrupted by realizations of the absolute awesomeness of the place we were in. After our drinks we left. For the entire semester I did not return to that bar. I heard that there are others like it, all having different feels and ranges of exclusivity. Apparently there is one at which the man at the back door is indiscreet and will not respond to you unless you know his number and have texted him the password.
It was not until my last night in Sydney that I sought out my secret bar again, this time to slowly drink my last gin and tonic alone.