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Arms Length

Bars Redfern
Sign outside wall
Photograph: Divya Venkataraman

Time Out says

A coveted Surry Hills corner block is revived with a bar fitting the physically distanced era

Not long after opening its doors, Arms Length – a modern Australian bar specialising in fine, curated ingredients and high-brow drinks – already had customers loyal enough to be considered regulars. "See those guys over there?" says co-owner Rebecca O'Shea, gesturing towards a lively table. "They're locals. They've been in a bunch of times already."

Setting up shop on the corner adjoining Cleveland and Bourke streets is a bold bet: in short order, bars have come and bars have gone from this very location. It begs the question: what will it take for a venue here to stand the test of time? The latest team to take on the challenge is young but enthusiastic, and collectively their combined knowhow equates to decades of experience in the hospitality industry. The result is Arms Length (the name was a joke about physical distancing, which stuck) and it seems to be a hit with Surry Hills' notoriously picky residents. With its bustling streetside tables, softly flickering candles, and low hum of chatter as patrons settle in for happy hour, Arms Length has an aura of ease and playfulness that makes you feel like its been around for a lot longer.

"When [co-ower] Rhys called me up and said we should open a bar... I thought it was a joke," O'Shea laughs. "But we'd found this perfect spot. Then, we thought, why not call it something that reflects the times we're living through? So we settled on Arms Length."

Departing from the casualness of the surrounding neighbourhood – stalwarts like Indian restaurant Maya Da Dhaba and the infamous late-night eatery Golden Pide are notable names – Arms Length has snackable, shareable plates of well-presented delicacies: think fresh shucked rock oysters, kingfish crudo and chicken liver pâté. With a chef trained under Alessandro Pavoni of Ormeggio at the Spit, it's fancy, but catered toward the local set. The anchovy crostini, in particular, is tangy and flavoursome – and best swished down with a cool rosé. 

The fit-out is polished, demure and takes advantage of the full space. A striking painting of a crane in an embossed frame adorns the front wall. That, and the other unique artwork in the space, are vintage finds, hauled in from an op shop on Mitchell Street in Alexandria – an ode to the relatively conservative means the team had to work with in setting up the venue during the uncertain future faced by the hospitality industry as a whole.

The wine and beer lists are compact, but well-chosen, while the focus is really on zingy cocktails with a twist: the Grapefruit Daquiri is fashioned of white rum from nearby Brix Distillers and grapefruit twizzled with Aperol, while the Caipiroska gets a refresh with chili vodka as its base. 

While it's just a stone's throw from the city's hub of bars and cafés, Arms Length was dreamed up as a place for neighbourhood patrons to come, see friendly faces and savour top-notch plates. "It was always going to be about the locals," says O'Shea. "And we've been so lucky with how welcoming everyone has been." Pull up a stool and perch by the window-facing benches for an easy post-work drink, and watch the constant buzz of Cleveland Street pass you by. 



Address: 648 Bourke Street
Surry Hills
Opening hours: Daily, noon-late
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