So Aperitif has lost some glitter since the departure of Charles Leong last year. Hugo’s boasts a queue a mile long, and Barrio Chino’s pretty exceptional front bar is absolutely hammered with punters at all times. But it's not all bad news in the Cross. What you might not know is that bartender Andy Penney has opened 21 on the old Melt site, with a 5am licence and the promise of one hell of a party.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of being served by Penney before, here’s a brief Sydney history for the peripatetic bartender: after leaving the Bayswater Brasserie (RIP), he took up tenure at the Flinders and Duke, setting up their bars and giving Sydney their first taste of a down’n’dirty American dive bar. He's one of the city’s most incredible booze wranglers.
Now, word on the street about 21 is that later in the evening the bar fills up with Kings Cross clubbers, so our advice is if you’re just after a drink and not a full body grind, we’d suggest heading in when the bar opens at 8pm.
Drinks wise, we have two words for you: Raspberry Fantagroni. It’s basically a Negroni with a raspberry float (and if you could see the insides of our heads even thinking about that drink, you’d see a chorus line of excited, squealing pixies). How about a Sigfried and Rye? It’s a sweet, rich stir-up of Penney’s Pop Rocks-infused rye and bitters with an orange twist. But it’s the Brooklyn Breezer we’ll be going back for - Brooklyn lager, rye, Clamato juice (whoever thought of mixing clam brine and tomato juice was a genius) and smoked salt. Boom bam pow.
It might please you to know that there are snacks here too. There’s a classic Reuben on rye, or (our favourite) the club sandwich with a side of crisps. The idea behind the food is stuff you can pick it up with one hand and eat - no cutlery required.
You’ll find the bar in between the infamous Sapphire Suite and that Kings Cross shooting gallery. Sadly, the old New York Restaurant (lamb cutlets for $6!) has been replaced by an overpriced antiques store. Suffice to say, it’s not really an area you’ll want to be wandering alone if you’re a sweet slip of a thing. You'll be safe in 21, though. It's hidden behind a solid black metal door that could hold at bay a zombie apocalypse. The first level is an intimate bar open on the weekends run by Rodrigo Vega (you can call him Rory, and incidentally, smokers, there’s also a balcony). The second level has a dance floor complete with an enormous mirror ball reflecting lime-green lights like tiny disco angels all over the roof. The back window looks over the Golden Mile, where bright neon strip club signs wink suggestively and hotel curtains are left wide open, revealing half-dressed backpackers.
Go early, go late, just go.