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Cantina OK

Bars, Cocktail bars Sydney
4 out of 5 stars
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Sydney’s tiniest bar is a micro version of a honky-tonk down in Mexico

The laneway where you’ll find Sydney’s newest, and arguably tiniest bar is a run-of-the-mill service way, complete with bins, brooms and drains. Which is part of what makes visiting Cantina OK so enjoyably disorienting. Outside, it’s all grey concrete and peak-hour bus traffic along Clarence Street, but step over the threshold into floor space technically reserved for 20 medium-sized humans and instead of finding yourself inside John Malkovich’s brain, you’re in a tiny slice of Mexico – it’s even a few degrees warmer in the bar than outside.

It’s standing room only, folks, which is a good thing, because it allows most of the people to get some elbow room at the bar. Drinking here is an interactive event. While they mix their house-spiced Mexican rum with jaw-clenchingly tart raspberries to create one of Sydney’s sharpest Daiquiris, prepare to go on a journey with your bartender. The menu is less about listing the 48 bottlings of extremely limited mezcal on the wall than it is a photo essay and travel journal from Tio's trio Alex Dowd, Jeremy Blackmore and Alex ‘Happy’ Gilmour’s most recent purchasing trip through Mexico.

Did they buy three litres of mezcal from an elderly man in a Mennonite community in the Mexican mountains? You betcha. Have they brought home an agave spirit aged with genuine coyote in it? Or rattlesnake? Naturally. In fact, this is probably one of the only bars in Sydney where you would want to stipulate that you are vegan or vegetarian before imbibing, lest you order the savoury, earthy petrichor-smelling mezcal that’s been aged in cow hide and flavoured with caterpillars.

You can get cash splashy if you want to try a spirit that’s been ageing in glass since the ’90s, but there’s possibly more overarching joy to be found in their extra-dry rendition of a Margarita that they make with half tequila, half mezcal, lime and citrus oil. There’s no salt rim, so the acid is front and centre on the palate, but they do pour it over a snow cone’s worth of shaved ice, so sweaty city sessions have met their match.

Everything in the venue has a story attached to it. All timber including the bar top came from the same felled pine tree; the yellow, cast-iron ice shaver was brought back by a Tio’s bartender from Nepal; the photos in the menu were developed by two nice chaps in Glebe who come personally recommended.

If you belong to the “I had a bad night on Sierra once” camp and abstain from agave, order a can of Temple Okinawa sour, a gently citric brew; or smash a natural wine – they’ve got Margaret River’s Dormilona tempranillo, Arfion’s Smokestack Lightning pinot gris and P&V’s prosecco by the glass.

It’s remains a mystery how they’ve squashed two bartenders with great chat, a gap-year’s worth of mezcal and most of a tree into what was once a utility cupboard and still saved floor space for 20 3D customers to fit inside, but they have. Go and marvel at the Mary Poppins bag that is Sydney’s tiniest cocktail bar. It’s the perfect balance of fun and quality, which makes it a very good time.

Venue name: Cantina OK
Contact:
Address: Council Place
Sydney
Sydney
2000
Opening hours: Daily 4pm-2am
Static map showing venue location
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