A cocktail that makes you cough doesn’t sound like a good time, but hear us out.
When the Eau de Vie bartender brings over our Smokey Rob Roy, he pours a mix of Talisker and Highland whiskies, Diplomatico Mantuano rum, sweet vermouth and orange bitters from a beaker into a glass over a cloud of wood smoke. The smoke dances in and above the glass for for at least a minute. It’s mesmerising.
When the haze has subsided, we lift the glass to our lips, but we’ve jumped the gun and our mouth fills with a tasty yet cough-provoking vapour. It also provokes a giggle. We'll wait.
When we do taste this drink – owner Sven Almenning’s signature cocktail – we find it’s exactly as the menu describes: “bold and fierce”. Not for the Piña Colada lovers among us. You get the rich, smoky notes of the whisky playing with the burnt flavours of the actual smoke; the caramel undertones of the rum lending velvety sweetness; herbal elegance from the vermouth, and citrusy brightness from the orange bitters. It’s like a cosy night spent in front of a fireplace, cleverly condensed into a glass.
There’s no fireplace here, but cosy it is. Nineteen-twenties-style, stained-glass Tiffany lampshades hang above each of the tables and black leather booth seating that run down the middle of the room. The lamp light reflects against the mirror behind the bar, so that the rows of whiskey and other bottles seem lit from behind.
There are glass cabinets featuring relics from a bygone era (antique cocktail shakers, shot glasses, crystal glassware) above the banquette seating that line the walls. The space nails the ‘1920’s American speakeasy’ vibes, evoking a sense of mystery, exclusivity, curiosity about a classy prohibition-era past, and giving you an escape from the ordinary – not least because somewhere in the room, there’s almost always a bar person doing something theatrical with flames or smoke or bubbles. And “speakeasiness” is what Eau de Vie has always been about – in its Melbourne iteration as well as the original Sydney version, which, before closing (in October 2020 due to pandemic- and lockout law-related challenges) took out Best Bar titles over multiple years of the Time Out Food & Drink Awards. (Full disclosure: we haven’t been to either the previous Sydney version or the Melbourne outpost, so we can’t judge Sydney’s EDV 2.0 against either of those.)
This place also hits the speakeasy mark in terms of location (read: it’s hard to find). Here’s a tip: ignore the George Street address entirely and enter via Wynyard Lane (it’s opposite the Shell House entrance) – the same place you enter for its sibling restaurant, the Sanderson.
For our next round, we go right to the other end of the spectrum and order a Kitty @ the Cocobongo. It’s a fruity, tropical explosion of Absolut Elyx Vodka with passionfruit, elderflower, citrus for tang, vanilla for sweetness, and egg whites for froth.
We also try the EDV Blazer/Old Fashioned, because, according to the menu, it was named “one of the best cocktails in the world” by Elite Traveller. It’s Diplomatico Mantuano rum, whisky, scotch ale and PX syrup served over a “super rock” of ice. PX syrup is made from Pedro Ximénez (white) grapes, which are known for their high sugar content – it adds a luxurious and nuanced sweetness to the drink. Overall, it’s a big, boozy hit.
Luckily we have food in front of us to soak it up. We ordered prawn sandos, and expected delicate bites, but a filling prawn and corn patty comes sandwiched between soft, crust-free white bread slathered with avocado. The perfect drinking food. We also get Wagyu beef cheek pasties – they’re like empanadas served with a “mushroom ketchup” that brings a umami punch. Delicious. We wish we didn’t make dinner plans for after this, because we’d happily settle in for more bites, a charcuterie and cheese plate, or even the $59 chef’s selection Feed Me menu.
When we head back up to the street in the elevator and out into the dark CBD lane to head to dinner, we already feel like we’ve had a full night out. Eau de Vie isn’t just about the excellent, razzle-dazzle cocktails, or the glam secret setting, or the delicious snacks – it’s a whole multisensory experience. If you're looking for an out-of-the-ordinary night out, this is it.