If you ask the bartenders at Darlo Bar really nicely, they might just take you up for a look at the pub’s rooftop garden. The building’s upper levels still serve as a hotel for visitors and residents and one long-term resident, Loretta, has spent the past 10 years turning the roof’s narrow oblong aspect into a little slice of Provence in Darlinghurst.
Olive and lime trees nestle between latticework seats and tables, while terracotta pots jostle side by side on the Astroturf. It’s the contents of these pots that are the basis of Darlo Bar’s new seasonal range of cocktails. Bartenders Dean Bruce and Elliot Solomon decided to make use of the sunlit space less than four months ago and have already cultivated a healthy garden of mints (including apple mint and choc mint), basils, stevia (the intensely sweet and slightly minty American herb), lemongrass, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, pineapple sage, coriander, chilli and Japanese shiso.[fold]
“It’s almost a perfect place to grow,” says Solomon “because it gets direct sunlight all the time, it’s sheltered from the wind and no pests can get up there – except for cockatoos occasionally demolishing plants.”
Such an ideal growing environment translates to herbs that are saturated with flavour and ideal to tackle the rigours of complementing hard liquor. Bruce and Solomon have designed a drinks list that builds upon classic cocktails with unique house-infused spirits, cordials and sugar syrups – the key being to keep the mixes light and summery, so the flavours of their lovingly tended herbs can punch through.
Take the ‘Courtesan’, their spin on the tried-and-tested aperitif, the Negroni. Aperol brings slightly less bitterness than the traditional Campari and their grapefruit and rosemary-infused gin is delicious straight-up, let alone mixed with grapefruit bitters, Punt e Mes red vermouth and a generous serving of smashed thyme.
It’s probably the purest cocktail in terms of being true to the flavours of the herbs, Solomon says, and the rosemary and thyme surprisingly complement the bitterness of the Aperol and vermouth, its slightly savoury aspect making it a great appetite whetter.
Kicking back in the freshly face-lifted Garden Bar (the flamingos are gone and it’s now giving off a relaxed tennis club vibe), we taste their house-made lemon and chilli gomme, strawberry-infused vodka and falernum syrup (a blend of aniseed, cloves, cinnamon and sugar), while Solomon mixes up a ‘Khe Sanh’ (a tall vodka and lychee liqueur drink with a lemongrass kick) and ‘Moby Dick’ (Kraken spiced rum with apricot brandy, apple juice and falernum syrup to give it a seafaring East Indies twist of spice).
As we taste the fruits of their labour, Bruce and Solomon expound enthusiastically upon their plans to continue adding new flavours to their herb garden, and experimenting with the cocktail list as their home-grown ingredients change with the seasons. If they can figure out the legalities of growing and serving their own wormwood, don’t be surprised if you find house-made absinthe on the menu at the Darlo Bar in the months to come.