There are certainly a lot of wine bars, small bars and tapas bars cropping up around Sydney. But what exactly is the formula for success? In quite a competitive market, how do these establishments stand out from the crowd, so that we, the all important ‘customer’ always go back. I have tried a lot of small bars in the past – some have been themed, some offer a very extensive menu, some focus just on international wines and some have been quite obviously a rushed start up.
All of them certainly offer an interesting experience in one way or another, but I always seem to walk away thinking, there was ‘something’ missing, food could have been a bit better, the menu was a little pricey, the atmosphere was dead or decor was unfinished.
I stumbled across ‘The Crow Bar‘ one evening as I was trying to find somewhere to have a bite to eat. I noticed that it was new, and as you all know, I love trying new venues out. Located on the corner of Willoughby Lane and Burlington Street, ‘The Crow Bar’ is in prime position. Opposite the Crows Nest carpark, you’ll walk out and see it straight away. I was instantly drawn in by the soft lighting and warm ambiance and could see that there was certainly an atmosphere. On arrival, people were laughing, there was a mixture of old time crooners and modern hits playing in the background and everyone seemed to be really enjoying themselves. There was a mixture of groups, couples intimately dining and people dropping by for a quick drink.
For me, welcoming, knowledgeable and friendly staff is a must for a small bar. Poor service and lack of customer understanding is simply not acceptable. If you’re planning on offering a dining experience in a smaller space, it should be a given – no excuses. Now, John Cantle, part owner of ‘The Crow Bar’ is a absolute rockstar at this. He made an effort to speak to everyone the evening I was there, discussed the menu, made sure my table was properly fed and hydrated, and believe it or not, had a bit chat with me! And after looking at other reviews online, John and his team are now known for their welcoming and hospitable service. Not only is he friendly, engaging and passionate, he really does know his stuff. After chatting, I found out that he and his partners Tracy Cantle (his wife) and Kerry Hewitt (sister in law) have been in the industry for many years, and they themselves have been on the same quest as me – finding the perfect small bar. However, they went one step further and started one themselves and I am pretty thankful that they did.
John describes his cocktail list and food menu as ‘simple and sexy’. The head chef, Anna Borna has put together a menu that is diverse, but not complicated. What you read, is quite literally what you get. This is something I noticed straight away with ‘The Crow Bar’, every single ingredient that was listed in the menu items, you could taste. Many dining establishments will attempt to get away with not having all the ingredients listed in their meals – and it’s very frustrating. But to put it simply, the food at ‘The Crow Bar’ is delicious and some of the best small bar share plates I’ve ever eaten. It’s flavoursome, interesting and presented beautifully. John and his team know their menu inside out, which shows an air of professionalism. If you’re unsure of what to pick, they’ll be more than happy to aid in your decision making.
Luke Hovatta, the bar manager and his bar tending team made up of Maxwell Thompson and Jamie Muscat also represent the concept of ‘simple and stylish’ in the cocktail list. There is an extensive list of classics cocktails, but I would be encouraging you to try the signature cocktails exclusively designed by Luke for ‘The Crow Bar’. Once again, all the cocktails I witnessed being made were presented beautifully and were full of personality, texture and colour. I was made the ‘Gay Jay’, a delightfully refreshing, delicate and light cocktail – just divine! It’s really obvious that the bar staff are truly passionate and highly experienced. It was an experience in itself watching them magically create the cocktails. The boys were happy to offer suggestions based on what you normally drink, or really keen for you try something new. Alongside a stunning cocktail list, there is premium beers, wines and spirits, all hand picked by the staff.
The decor and interiors of ‘The Crow Bar’ are just gorgeous. Modern, simple and stylish. Split into two parts, the front bar is where most of the action is. Surrounded by big glass windows, the space is airy and light. There is plenty of seating, made up of bar stools and tables, which are are dotted around the main feature of the room – the stunning backlight bar. Down a corridor, you enter another bar area, that is slightly more enclosed and a little quieter. This part of the bar can be hired for private functions, and right at the back has a small room with sliding doors – offering guests privacy when needed. Without being over the top, there are touches of luxury everywhere; from the velour detailing in the wall, dark oak furniture, crystal chandeliers and beautiful leather couches. It’s the perfect mix of contemporary and opulence.
It’s really obvious that John, Tracey and Kerry have put a lot of thought and effort into ‘The Crow Bar’. Even down to the name and logo itself. John jokingly explained that each of the three crows, represent the three owners. John in the middle, being badgered by his wife on the right and his sister in law being distracted by them on the left. I really love these sorts of touches of personality, which you’ll find dotted around the bar, in the decor, the menu and artwork. It adds flair to the venue and is a great starting point for conversation.
Going back to my original question, what makes a successful small bar? What is the formula? Well, in a way John already answered it when I asked him how he would describe his bar. Simple and stylish. That’s it. Simplicity is the key. I find if everything is too complicated, over the top or even rushed, the whole point of dining in a small bar environment is lost. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I’d imagine as customers we wan’t to eat beautiful food and drink delicious cocktails in a pleasant environment, feel that we’re coughing up a reasonable amount for the service and finally, we want to be looked after. John, Tracey, Kerry and ‘The Crow Bar’ team offer this, not sometimes, all the time. The formula is simple and it’s exactly why people keep going back.
If you’re still not small bar satisfied and on the hunt for the perfect venue, then I encourage you to live a little and head straight down to ‘The Crow Bar’, you won’t be disappointed and you will definitely be back.
Hours of Operation:
Tue: 3pm to Midnight
Wed: 3pm to Midnight
Thu: 3pm to Midnight
Fri: 3pm to Midnight
Sat: 3pm to Midnight
Sun: 3pm to 10pm