Night owls who don't like night clubs are hooting it up in Darlinghurst and the surrounding suburbs at the moment thanks to the City of Sydney council's new liquor laws, which make it easier for cafes to gain licenses to serve alcohol.
Small bars with loads of character and cute names are popping up everywhere. For starters Darlinghurst has Pocket Bar (13 Burton Street), Ching A Lings (133 Oxford Street) and the Shady Pines Saloon (5/256 Crown Street), while Surry Hills has the Absinthe Salon (87 Albion Street) and Potts Point has Velluto (50 Macleay Street) amongst others.
Even so, I still miss Barons!
The Owl House opened less than a fortnight ago, sandwiched between a brothel and a gym-clothes shop on the William Street end of Crown Street.
My friend Ruby Molteno is a dedicated night owl, so when she spotted The Owl House last week, she was determined we go and visit and see if this new bar was perhaps her spiritual home. The only problem is The Owl House is only open to midnight, which doesn't seem very night-owlish at all.
The Owl House is spread across two floors with a ten-seater bar taking up most of the space downstairs, while upstairs there is a room with a mix of communal seating areas, tables for two or four and a small veranda that can seat two couples.
I like being where the action is, so we each grabbed a bar stool at the downstairs bar and set to work perusing the cute homemade menu that was held together with a length of wool.
The Owl House is owned by former New Yorker Amir Halpert and former Brit Paul Coulli, with chef Ruddy Nurkoo making North African inspired tapas.
Surprisingly, The Owl House did not take advantage of the new liquor laws and instead holds a restaurant license because, Amir told us, he wants the emphasis to be on good food and drink, rather than booze alone.
There are about a dozen items on the menu, which starts at $5 for a bowl of mixed olives and goes to $16 for a braised lamb shoulder in red wine with baby vegetables and chat potatoes.
We wanted to order the steamed zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and mint, over crushed peas ($8) and the braised chicken drumsticks on apricot, pistachio and coriander cous cous ($14). But they were both sold out.Luckily, they still had the garlic prawns, pan-fried in white wine and roasted garlic butter ($13):
And the portobello mushroom stuffed with ricotta, porcini, served with rocket yoghurt foam and balsamic glaze ($9):
As well as the Shakshuka, a mix of fried tomato and capsicum, baked with quail eggs and served with Iggy's sourdough bread ($9):
That's Amir laughing in the photograph above, because he thought he was escaping the prying lens of my camera. When not mixing drinks Amir doubled as happy, welcoming and talkative host. Ruby and I were having a jolly good time too because the food was excellent and the service even better.
One of my pet hates is flat sparkling wine. You can't imagine the number of times, stony-faced bar staff have filled my glass with the dregs of the bottle and then expected me to not only pay for it, but to drink it too. Flat sparking wine = migraine.
There is no way I am touching the stuff and I always feel insulted when bar staff pour me a glass of flatness and don't even seem to notice. That inevitably means I have to ask them kindly to please pour me a fresh glass, which always seems to bother them, as if they can't see what is wrong with it in the first place. And it makes me appear as if I am some annoying, complaining hag, when all I want is the drink I am paying for.
My other pet drinking hate is when they pour wine from two bottles in to the one glass. Argh! Don't mix it, I almost yell.
Anyway, I was so happy when Amir poured me a glass of sparkling wine, realised it was flat, and then immediately tossed it down the sink and opened a fresh bottle. I didn't have to say anything and I was so grateful for that. So The Owl House receives ten out of ten from me.
The other reason for their immaculate score, is their immaculate bathrooms. You can always judge a place on the cleanliness of their bathrooms:
Outside the door to the upstairs toilet was this cute little scene featuring an old fashioned laptop:
Inside the bathroom there was a book and cactus theme:
You must also visit The Owl House bathroom to see this view:
Another good reason to visit The Owl House and sit at the downstairs bar is for a bit of gossip about the neighbourhood. I love Darlinghurst gossip and information gleaned from business owners, who always seem to be the first to know about new developments in the neighbourhood.
Amir told us that a new Woolworths is opening in the old City Ford building on the Woolloomooloo side of Crown Street. If that is true, it's quite good news for the residents of Darlinghurst Flats, who either have to walk up the hill to Coles in Kings Cross or go to the IGA in the Oxford Square shopping centre for their groceries.
I immediately set to work online, checking the City of Sydney council's development applications and approvals as well as the website for the Department of Planning, which approves major projects. But neither contained any applications from Woolworths or approvals for the Crown Street site:
Anyway, we will know soon enough as City Ford has already vacated the building and I doubt Woolworths will waste any time moving in and putting the $elf-$ervice check-outs to work.
The Owl House
97 Crown Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
02 9357 5060