Rare is the wine bar that opens its nebbiolo chapter with a story about David Byrne, self-harm and high school. Or, indeed, has a nebbiolo section at all. But this is Love Tilly Devine - a bar where one good turn truly deserves another. Sommelier Matt Swieboda and chef Tim Webber have turned a dank storeroom out the back of Crown Street's Best Cellars into an excellent little wine bar. Good as it is, we have a few caveats: the seats are small and tightly packed. And it gets full and hot fast*. The value is sound, but it's easy to spend a bunch of money here. And yet we can't manage to stay away.
The dark walls are unadorned except for the small menu scrawled in chalk and the bar/kitchen takes up most of the downstairs area. There's an upstairs bit too, with banquettes and tables and things, but for our buck, the best seats are by the window where you get to look out on the laneway and have the breeze blow on your face at the same time. It's also as close to outdoor drinking as you'll get, as the licence doesn't stretch to the footpath. Damn you, licensing laws.
Food may not be top of your agenda when you visit LTD but you'd be a fool not to order any. Tim Webber spent seven years cooking at Sean's Panaroma and knows his way around a snack. Salami of all shapes and sizes hangs off the ceiling of the open kitchen along with fresh garlic, citrus, pots and pans. A big strawberry tart sits off to the side one day; poached fruit with vanilla the next. And there's a big pile of Iggy's bread hanging back with the huge platter of crudités served with bagna cauda. When Webber gets a spare moment, he flips on some vinyl (Madlib's Shades of Blue is playing when we stop by) and it's hard not to sink right down in your seat, lulled by the soft crackle of a record in a warm room with a cool glass of lean-as-hell muscadet from the Loire.
The bar, of course, is named after notorious crime boss Tilly Devine whose minions carried on vicious razor wars around Darlinghurst in the late 1920s. The name might suggest a sly grog/knocking shop, but the reality is a drinking den dealing in some of the most exciting wine you're likely to taste - and all of it deliciously turpentine-free. It's all stuff Matt Swieboda likes to drink and hopes you will too. Gruner. White Burgundy. Teutonic rieslings aplenty. Yep, twist our oh-so-rubbery arms to drink the entire list. Riding the austerity train all the way to poor town? Have we got the wine for you - and it comes by the pint! Try the Natural Selection Theory ‘Voice of the People' spring blend for $25. This red wine (there's no telling which grapes are used - let's just say it's a bit of everything) comes in an old-school glass milk bottle. Not a wine drinker? There are a few choice beers on offer including Cooper's Pale and Moo Brew Heferweizen. Oh, and two types of cider. If you're not sure what you're looking for but want to have a bit of a dig without the help of a sommelier, the list is broken up into descriptive sub-categories. Looking for something 'challenging, unusual, idiosyncratic'? Look no further. How about something 'fragrant, textured and harmonious'? They've got your back. There's the section devoted solely to riesling with a Fight Club-esque 10-point explainer.
The six o'clock swill might be a thing of the past, but we'd still advise you get here on the early side - the bar doesn't open past midnight (it's also closed on Sunday and Monday), and you'll want one of those window seats.
*LTD have recently installed an air conditioner - it's much cooler in there now.