Time Out Sydney

The new-look Cliff Dive is as tropical as ever. Maybe even more so

The tiki bar and nightclub that began filling its dancefloor since November 2013 took a bit of a hit just a few months later when Sydney’s new liquor licensing laws came into play. Once famous for their late-night parties, TCD had to start shutting their doors to dancers wanting to come in at 1.30am and stop serving alcohol at 3am. It was touch and go there for a minute – Sydney’s only under-the-sea-themed Papa New Guinean dancehall almost flat-lined.

But never say die, and never surrender - that’s the tiki motto. So owners Alex Dowd and Jeremy Blackmore have done a bit of rejigging. They hired on bartender Michael Chiem (you might remember him from SokyoBlack and more recently, Bulletin Place) to up the stakes on the cocktail front. Chef Tin Jung Shea (everyone calls him Honky) has taken over the kitchen. It’s a good result.

The sweaty dumplings have been replaced with grilled things on sticks – a great foil for the cocktails and much more conducive to drinkin’. There’s the surprisingly excellent confit of octopus, glossy with house-made sweet chilli. Or try the deeply charred pork or chicken skewers, fragrant with lemongrass. Firm tofu marinated in chilli and tamarind super is a vegetarian cocktail fan’s best friend. For everyone else, there’s gingery beef. Or you can order the Hungry Honky: that’s all five with a side of sweet coconut rice and some of their very good house pickles for just $16. Add a Piña Colada serve in a whole pineapple and you’ve got dinner and a party in one.

Drinks, with Chiem on board, have taken a turn for the fancy. They still have their famous monkey heads, but they joined by a couple of new tiki faces and a longer, nicely curated cocktail list. There’s still plenty of fruity and fresh on the menu like that Pina Colada and the Mr Cavendish – a double monkey’s paw of tequila and rum and a whole lot of banana – just like a smoothie, only very bad for you.

The Jungle Bird is a sort of tropical aperitif of Campari, spiced rum and a dash of pine/lime juice over a giant lump of ice garnished with a lime wheel. Togarashi’s Castle – the spicy blue cocktail you’ve been waiting for - is a flavour bomb of tequila, blue liqueur and pine/lime juices served in a glass coupette encrusted with Japanese spice mix, which is not unlike licking crushed up Pizza Shapes.

The room’s been given a bit of sparkle, too. The school of paper fish that swim above the dancefloor is joined by a large crop of seaweed. Oh, and a couple of bobbing jellyfish. The DJ booth boasts new speakers and the Guaguin-style murals by local artist and bartender Max Berry along with the newly woven seagrass add depth and texture. The reconfigured space and renewed vigour behind the bar goes a long way to solving that ‘we’ve arrived too early for the party/it feels like an empty nightclub’ feel the place had when it first opened. Lock out laws may have changed the way the Cliff Dive throws a party, but just quietly, we’re a little glad.

It’s a bar you’ll want to drink in early and dance in late.

Who won the Sydney bar awards?

Updated on 15 Apr 2015.

By Myffy Rigby   |   Photos by Anna Kucera

The Cliff Dive details

16-18 Oxford Square, Darlinghurst 2010

Price per person including drinks Up to $50

Open Wed-Sat 6pm-late

The Cliff Dive map

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