Yes, you are definitely in Manly – the air is salty, there are surf shops everywhere and in spite of the swiftly dropping mercury, thongs are still the footwear of choice. But head through a heavily curtained doorway just off the Corso and you will be forgiven for feeling disoriented. Harlem on Central is a high-class hideaway serving slick drinks in low light with not an errant grain of sand to be found upon its dark, polished wood floors. In fact, it puts us strongly in mind of Darlinghurst’s den of elegant iniquity, Eau De Vie - the type of bar we're only too happy to see more of in Sydney.
This is the fourth offering from Kieran Bailey and Adam Clarke who have already put their personal stamp on the Manly bar scene with the likes of Sugar Lounge and Miss Marley’s Tequila Bar around the corner.
They're going for an uptown speakeasy vibe at Harlem. Understated in its opulence, it’s the sort of joint where you might expect to see a small time crime boss or lower member of the Russian oligarchy lounging on the black, crocodile leather banquettes and silver velvet chaise.
Ease into things with a Harlem Hooch, a sweet, wintry punch made up of fresh pear juice, ginger and bitters. Spike this smooth, vitamin-filled pick-me-up with the poison of your choice. Your options include tequila, whisky, rum and Cognac but the gold star goes to the Buffalo Trace Bourbon. The best part? It’s only 10 bucks a pop and is dangerously easy to drink.
Once you’ve downed your daily three-to-five, you can move right on to the hard stuff. In spite of it being a Friday the place is far from capacity when we visit. Though this is clearly not a packed to the rafters party joint, the quiet trade makes itself evident in a few stock-take issues.
Ordering a Yamazaki sour we find they are out of the titular ingredient. Similarly the Monte Negroni is missing the ‘Monte’ in the form of Amaro Montenegro. However the barkeep is quick to strip the house concoctions back to their classic forms and the results keep us happy as clams. The Whiskey Sour has just the right amount of pucker to it and the Negroni balances bitter and sweet very nicely.
Saving the best for last the Smokin’ Aces sees Appleton Rum, maple syrup, bitters and a Laphroaig whisky wash in an ice-cold glass. The mix of maple and the peaty Laphroaig puts us in mind of bacon and pancakes in the best possible way – thank you Canada!
Sliders are the go to for bar snacks. The pulled pork with pear and red cabbage 'slaw is solid and the buttermilk fried chicken is keeping very good company with some hot sauce mayo, but it's the pork and veal meatball with tomato and cheese that wins the mini-burger wars - the tiniest meatball sub in town.
A side of shoestring fries comes with a pungent blue cheese and truffle dipping sauce where a little goes a long, long way - not safe for first dates, people, you have been warned. Sure, you may be eating burgers and chips for dinner, but when you do it in such elegant surrounds fast food guilt doesn’t stand a chance.
High rollers can get their hands on a piece of the pie with their very own lockable cabinet behind the bar, complete with a golden, engraved plaque. If you really want to get conspicuous there are locked antique cabinets against the wall where everyone can have a good old sticky beak at the bottle of Grange or single malt you are saving for a rainy day. And if you just want to smell like money, there's a cologne stand outside the bathrooms.
Need a palate cleanser? Our pick is the excellent Dundee IPA from Rochester in New York; crisp, bitter and a perfect end to a night on the sweeter stuff.
If you’re a local, here is yet another reason to love Manly after dark, and if you’re out of area, we'd suggest hopping on a ferry for a nighttime adventure – Manly has the bar credentials to make it well worth your while.