Few Sydney bars have weathered storms, fashions and flights of fancy the way Longrain has. Spicy, punched-up vodka drinks hold no currency the way they do here, where they make perfect sense pared with chef Martin Boetz's smart Thai menu. For over a decade Longrain have operated in the Commonwealth Street warehouse, resident DJ in the corner spinning beatz, with the bar and restaurant operating side by side. A very recent renovation, however, has seen this Surry Hills stalwart expand into a multi-level haven of spice and good times.
Wander downstairs and find a huge, open-plan concrete bunker where booths and banquettes line the walls, little tables dot the room and the huge backlit bar takes pride of place right in the middle. Ken dolls and GI Joes strike racy poses beside the whiskey and gin, and fatigue print features on all the soft furnishings. The great thing about the new bar is that you can actually sit at it and chat to the bartenders while they make your drinks, if it's not too busy.
The list has increased, still offering all those stick drinks that made Longrain famous, like the Ping Pong and the Camp Bitch, but also larger drinks for sharing. There's a whole part of the list dedicated to what they refer to as ‘street dwellers' including a drink called the Punching Derro. A cherry and chocolate Whiskey Sour is powder-dry and incredibly refreshing. Don't let the chocolate element put you off, either - it's chocolate bitters, which add depth and structure. The Treacle is an incredibly warming way to start the evening. It's basically an Old Fashioned with a droplet of treacle and a splash of orange juice. Or go crisp with a Pisco Sour - that Peruvian classic of cachaca, lemon juice, egg white and bitters.
Snack-wise, there's a bar food menu with the likes of salt and pepper tofu - big cubes of deep-fried tofu with chilli vinegar - as well as the betel leaf platter where you get to roll your own version of the Thai-style canapé. The big platter has tiny dried shrimp, peanuts, cubes of lime, red onion, ginger and those deadly scud chillies that are hot enough to make a grown man cry. Deep-fried legs of duck are excellent to gnaw on with a cold beer, while each hunk of skewered pork hock is topped with a little mussel. A table of big men in suits is so moved by the menu that one of them yells, "This is the cheapest corporate meal ever!"
While Sydney moves swiftly towards little bars with can-do attitudes, there's something to be said for a sophisticated large-scale offering like Longrain. It's a recipe that's worked for over a decade - great service, tasty drinks and excellent snacks - and how many Sydney bars can boast that? Not many, if any.