While Covid-19 is a destructive menace that’s wreaked havoc across the globe, there has been a silver lining we at Broadsheet have happily gotten behind: Sydney’s relaxed eating and dining regulations. Suddenly we could not only get takeaway from our favourite restaurants and bars, many even delivered their tasty goods and pre-batched booze to our doors (and still are).
Mighty CBD mezcal bar Cantina Ok! is taking advantage of the City of Sydney’s relaxed footpath seating laws for its reopening on Thursday June 11, introducing what many of us have only dreamed possible at the petite, 20-person standing-only bar: outdoor laneway seating.
“We’re going to have several tables set up in the laneway to ensure we can keep social distancing but avoid being constrained to just four guests,” Alex Dowd, the bar’s co-owner tells Broadsheet. “[It] means we can give people what they’ve always wanted down there – to be able to have a drink sitting outside.”
Dowd describes the scene you’re likely to encounter once you turn off Clarence Street and onto Council Place, the stumpy laneway where the converted garage bar is located: “Think Anthony Bourdain and [former US president] Obama sitting eating together – but outside,” he says referring to that incredibly cute scene from the late Bourdain’s Parts Unknown TV show where the two ate a super casual meal together in Vietnam. (Incidentally, the table they ate at has been encased in glass for posterity.)
“We’ll be coupling this new, kind of clandestine outdoor seating with the opportunity for anyone to buy our iconic Margarita [which we called Sydney’s best] and takeaway hipflasks of all our hand-chosen, hand-carried mezcals,” says Dowd.
Since opening in 2019, the tiny CBD bar has been the city’s best purveyor of the smoky Mexican spirit mezcal. For years, Dowd and his bartending crew have travelled extensively across Mexico, collecting the country’s finest examples of the drink to serve at the bar.
“Something we’ve always been asked since we opened was ‘Where can we get this stuff?’ or ‘Are you guys the importers?’. We’ve always shied away from being importers as a concept, because so much of the DNA of Cantina Ok! is about us sharing our travel experiences with people first-hand. We don’t stock a product on the backbar [whose premises] we haven’t visited personally. That story is hugely important to us,” he says.
As long as the local government area laws remain free and easy you’ll be able to visit the bar, and if you fancy anything, bar staff will decant 200 millilitres into a takeaway hipflask. “In this way it becomes something extremely powerful – it’s a liquid expression of an experience and culture, but it’s also a great memento for people. Maybe people on their first date can buy a bottle of that mezcal, and then have it on their anniversary every year. Maybe someone could buy it as a gift for a friend and share their story as another link in the chain. Or maybe they’ll smash it in the alleyway on the way home,” says Dowd.
Cantina Ok! reopens on Thursday June 11 at 5pm. It’ll trade on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for the moment.
Want to know more about why this bar serve’s Sydney’s best Margarita? Find out here.