Australia: Day 7 – The Case for Down Under
To be honest, I can't say I had any expectations for Australia before leaving on this trip. I was excited to visit a few of the wineries and of course I wanted to make a batch of gin with Four Pillars, but I wasn't particularly pulled in by anything in Australian culture the way I'm often allured by the fashions of France or the icons of Italy. Had Stuart Gregor not invited me down personally to visit him in Sydney this past week, I don't know if I would have ever booked a flight on my own. I'm such a sucker for Mexico, Manhattan, Europe, and Japan that I usually divide my rare vacation time between those four locales. That being said, I believe I've been completely converted to a full-fledged Aussie aficionado over the last seven days. Sydney has shown me the best parts of my favorite American cities all rolled into one dynamic and concentrated area. You've got a huge bay with inlets and coves like Seattle, but without the rain. You've got shopping and restaurants like in New York, but without the intensity or the madness. You've got the beaches of LA and Miami, but they're cleaner and even more beautiful. There's a lot to do here. I had a fantastic time yesterday—so much so that I'm already checking my schedule to see when I can return later in the year.
We went out on a water taxi to do a tour of the harbor, which I would absolutely recommend to anyone visiting; not so much because it's beautiful (which it absolutely is), but more so because I don't think you can really understand how big Sydney is until you see how far it stretches around the water. When you're done doing that, get back on to land and have a drink at Bennelong near the Opera House. That entire area is brimming with great places to sit, snack, and have a barrel-aged Four Pillars Negroni.
Don't think it's just tourists hanging out over at the Quay, either. There are just as many locals as there are out-of-towners getting their drink on. Like Peter Garrett, for example. The Midnight Oil frontman had literally just announced the reformation of his iconic rock band when we ran into him at the bar. Stu ordered me to take a photo with him because it was only proper for an American visiting Australia for the first time to meet the country's most famous rock star and former politician. "Is Paul Hogan going to jump out next and show me a koala?" I asked in return. They'll be at the Fox in Oakland on May 27th. Stu said Peter would get me tickets. I laughed and asked, "Are you staging all of this on my behalf?"
You most definitely need to have a drink with Jimmy Irvine and the gang from the Swillhouse group. Do it at the Baxter Inn, Frankie's Pizza, or at the Shady Pines, but make sure you go to one of those places and quench your thirst. As evidenced in my previous post and the T-shirt I'm wearing in the above photo, you can see where my loyalties lie.
For dinner in Sydney, you absolutely must go to Hubert, which is also part of the Swillhouse group and represents a style of dining I rarely see outside of Vegas. It's a huge (and I mean big) hall done in a French brasserie fashion with a stage and a live jazz band playing hits while you dine and watch the show. The wine list is incredible, the food divine, and the atmosphere unbeatable. I could eat there once a week and never get tired of it. Jimmy and I talked about wrestling and our favorite Caddyshack moments while bonding over various other pop culture phenomena.
There's a real scene happening here in Sydney, apparently one that only began about five years ago and has recently caught momentum downtown. It reminds me of San Francisco in 2008 when the bar scene began its resurrection and the night life began to change. With all the other great things Sydney has to offer—scenery, nature, culture, shopping, and the energy of a real city—you can add food and drink to that list. I've eaten and drunk as well over the last few days as I ever have in New York, Paris, or London. It's time we start looking further south in America, rather than just east and west. I think with our Francophile focus in the booze game we've been missing out on something special happening down under.