It was the ebb and flow of business that hinted to Adam Hofbauer that his original bar concept wasn't quite right for the neighbourhood he was in. For seven years Hofbauer ran Shirt Bar Sussex Lane (a combination suit store, cafe and bar) with long-time friends Justin and Louka Marmot. The morning coffee and after-hours drinks trades were solid, but it was quiet at lunch and dinner.
Last year the partners parted ways and the shirt store was moved to Barangaroo. Hofbauer stayed in the laneway but used the opportunity to reimagine the space as Bandit's Roost, a cafe and bar with a deli-style menu, an extensive whisky list and well-made coffee.
Bandit's Roost serves Hofbauer's own blend: F.A.T. ("For All Things"). "It's a rich blend of five arabicas, roasted dark. It cuts through the bitterness and gets chocolatey depth with dark fruit aromas," says Hofbauer.
The menu is inspired by the delis of New York. There's a Reuben sandwich made with tender pastrami, crunchy slaw and house-made pickles served on rye bread from Lox Stock & Barrel. The Bondi cafe also supplies Bandit's Roost's challah (a soft, brioche-like bread normally eaten on Jewish Sabbath) and its bagels, some of the best in town. Here they're served with labne, za'atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix), sprouts and radish.
That's not where the Lox Stock & Barrel connection ends. The cafe's executive chef is Neil Gottheiner, owner and chef of the beachside venue. "Neil is a good friend of mine and he helped put our menu together," says Hofbauer. "Bandit's Roost is like a little extension of their Bondi spot in the city." At night the menu switches from sandwiches and salads to dishes such as popcorn chicken katsu, hot-dog sausage rolls and house platters such as cheese and charcuterie. Or you can get the all-day Lansky with beetroot-cured ocean trout, toast, avocado, tomato and caraway mustard. The ocean trout also features at breakfast atop the savoury zucchini-and-spelt waffles served with goat's curd and chilli oil. Although Bandit's Roost is a departure from Shirt Bar, the whisky menu remains. There are plenty of Australian producers on the list, such as Melbourne's Starward, a good option if you're ordering the Triple Double sandwich, available on Wednesday nights. The triple-cheese toastie comes with a double shot of whisky on the rocks.
The shelves that once held ties and cufflinks now show off jars of pickles. And the service counter in the centre of the room has been turned into the bar and kitchen. If you're wondering about the name check out the photo at the back of the store. It was taken in the late 1800s and is of a Manhattan street gang hanging out in a laneway on the Lower East Side known as the Bandit's Roost.