and that’s really your first clue that something rather special is going on down the immaculately thatched stairs that lie beyond these doors.
The Papuan dancehall that is The Cliff Dive has long had a reputation as a place not so much to end the night as a place to push the night in a ditch, steal the night’s wife and shake it for hours on the dancefloor.
Much has changed in Sydney’s most urbane drinking precincts. An ill-considered policy of locking punters out of clubs in an effort to curb idiots punching one another left Alex and Jeremy, owners of this tiki gem and perennial tequila masterpiece Tio’s, with a hole in their cashflow.
Faced with such a change many would have gone to the wall, complaining bitterly of forces outside of their control. Some might have even marched, petitioned or tattooed slogans.
What these boys did is even more bold. They looked at what they could change.
Sitting beside them at the bar, you can’t ignore their creativity.
The chatter between the two is constant. Testing, asking, confounding and even occasionally congratulating. Theirs is the stubborn kind of creativity that just won’t take no for an answer, the kind that sticks to the plan of having a hand roped wall behind the DJ, even when it turns out to be a much bigger job than first thought.
What they’ve done is taken a space that already worked well late and given it some early evening legs. Booths and flexible seating options abound, there are stools at the bar. Grouper swim, at leisure across the dancefloor. It’s always been good here,and they’re constantly making it better.
Behind the bar is where the big changes have happened.
First, there’s food. Yurrippi has sprung from the left hand end of the bar. The skewers have been written about plenty by everyone else, they’re tasty.
Second, the drinks are rocking. The pair have partnered with Michael Chiem to lift the bar to what are now world class levels. The list provides a lesson to the tiki-curious with references to and drinks from some of the leading lights in tiki around the world.
The Zombie is excellent, existing at a point where strong, sweet, spicy and sweet coalesce in the best possible way. Served in an idol, the drink looks as good as it tastes and the stance on the mug foreshadows the effects of drinking too many of these wondrous serves.
Miss Cavendish is an example of what happens when tiki comes downunder, tequila mixes up with rum and citrus, the pebbled ice giving texture, the roasted bananas everything else.
For me though, the Jungle Bird is where it is at. This campari forward tiki classic is served almost as a slurry over a huge sphere. It’s got balance, style, texture and flavour. Easily the best version I have had anywhere.
I’ll be back soon to try the rest. You should too.
16-18 Oxford Square.
DISCLAIMER: You might have seen the odd mention in print of The Cliff Dive in recent weeks. I’ve been adding pleasure to my work helping the boys tell their story, along with members of my more beautiful and more talented team at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. They remain our only client with a Jungle Bird on their list.