Graceful, elaborate cocktails have never been particularly rock and roll, or at least they weren’t until Vasco Bar opened up in Surry Hills recently.

For those of us who are a little rusty on 1980s European rock trivia, the name Vasco mightn’t ring many bells. Turns out, it’s an homage to Vasco Rossi, a scandalous Italian rock star whose persona seems to have inspired quite literally every aspect of this welcome addition to Sydney’s small bar scene.

A jukebox glows in a dark corner, streaming a selection of surprisingly placid tunes the night we visited. Dim lighting illuminates iconic black and white stage shots on the walls and highlights a huge mural to the bar’s namesake. It’s an electric atmosphere, but it’s executed in a way that typically preambles greasy food and flat beer. Luckily, in the case of Vasco, nothing could be further from the truth.

Upon closer inspection, Vasco is as much a tribute to refined aperitif and Italian food as the grungy, 1980s rock culture that defines its aesthetic. The food here is a simple and fresh selection of Italian dishes. Their hotdog, with spicy Calabrian salsiccia, onion jam and seared cabbage with shoestring fries is in serious contention for Sydney’s finest.

Anyone in the habit of haunting Sydney’s best cocktail bars will recognise a few unshaven faces working behind the mahogany. This group of tattooed men in denim vests, including Luke Ashton of The Roosevelt, are at the very peak of Sydney’s bartending scene at the moment. The man breezing around the bar with a drumstick, whacking symbols and throwing a swag of rock star charisma around the place, is owner Max Greco, formally head bartender at Eau de Vie.

Vasco Bar captures the gritty essence of rock and roll without sacrificing any of the more elegant aspects that make a cocktail bar exceptional. Which, as far as we can tell, is a feat not often accomplished. We suspect the guitar pick business cards will disappear as fast into people’s pockets as the drinks will down their throats.

Vasco Bar
421 Cleveland St, Surry Hills
Hours: Tue - Sat 5pm - midnight; Sun 5pm - 10pm