What do you get when you cross a couple of Shady Pines barkeeps with a metric eff load of tequila and a whole lot of owls? You get Tio’s – Sydney’s newest (and only) Northwest Guatemalan owl bar. "What the hell is a Guatemalan owl bar and why do I want one?" we hear you ask. If Google is to be trusted, it’s a Central American branch of Hooters. The lesson here? Listen to us instead.
Tio’s (Spanish slang for ‘dude’) is a den of delicious iniquity. Go back a few years and a bar like this couldn't exist, or at least it'd be sporting a very expensive liquor licence. But thanks to the City of Sydney and a whole lot of understanding neighbours (including mod-Chinese restaurant Bar H, Longrain and the Hotel Hollywood), we are blessed with a dark cave filled with tequila and beer. All you’ve gotta do is look for the big neon sign hanging over the door.
This is a bar where you can actually meet your hangover before you’ve even had a drink. Chances are it’ll be hanging out over by the arm-wrestling bench downing a tinny crusted with salt and topped with a piece of lime. It’s likely your hangover will also be doing a few tequila shots, too. Doff your cap, and head to the bar – no doubt you two will be getting acquainted in the near future.
So you probably know all about the Baxter Inn – the classy laneway whisky bar in the city opened by Shady Pines alums Jason Scott and Anton Forte. This is the opposite of that. Their compadres Jeremy Blackmore and Alex Dowd have opened a bar that's all about the huge range of tequilas and cold tinnies. While Baxter hangs ye olde boxing photos on the walls, Tio’s sports a giant neon crab grasping a Corona in its claw. Those little Mexican Catholic shrines are dotted around the room. And, of course, there are plenty of owls.
No one ever said opening a bar was easy but somehow Dowd and Blackmore make it look like a snack. The good times stretch from one side of the bar to the other, both on our side and on the business side. But no one's having so much fun the job doesn’t get done: drinks are the priority here, and no one’s empty-handed for long.
It’s easy enough to lose yourself in the dark bar with a bag of spicy popcorn (gratis!) and a fistful of drinks. While you could make yourself very happy with any number of tequilas and more beers than is probably sensible in one setting, it’s the cocktails that should really be grabbing your attention. You can be guaranteed an excellent Margarita, and if you haven’t had a Negroni and Coke this is the place for one, but they’re also doing a number that involves sticking a whole lime - skin and all - straight through the juicer. The result is intensely limey (duh) but surprisingly sweet. Mix that with some salt and tequila and you’ve got a party in your mouth. Invite who you like.
There are surprisingly nice toilets, too. While we weren’t imagining a hole in the floor covered in flies, we certainly weren’t expecting hand-painted, electric blue ceramic basins and rendered walls.
Though Tio’s is a very different bar to Shady and Baxter, the bartenders follow the Shady Pines/Baxter Inn rule all the same. And that's hiring nice dudes making nice drinks. Somehow it keeps the douche-o-meter to a reasonable zero at the same time. If every bar could do the same, the world would be a happier place.