As owners Sven and Amber Almenning know, there are cocktails, and then there are cocktails. Eau de Vie makes the latter.
Opened in 2010, the bar was perhaps the first in Sydney to embrace the idea of the modern speakeasy: a classy, hidden den in which serious cocktail lovers can indulge. Accordingly, the bar enjoyed success both fast and enduring: it has been named everything from 2011 Bar of the Year by Gourmet Traveller to 2011 World’s Best New Cocktail Bar at the Australian Bar Awards. With all this success, you’d think the bar might be swarming with patrons, but thanks to its hidden location, you can still pull up a seat without too much of a hassle.
In French, eau de vie means ‘water of life,’ and Sven’s rather exceptional life’s journey plays a big role in the tastes you’ll find served over the counter. Sven grew up in Norway, and he has nearly two decades of experience in the bar industry. “Like a lot of people,” he explained, “bartending was something I did whilst travelling, studying and trying to figure out what it was I really wanted to do – only to find out that this was a really awesome industry to work in.”
As a result, he went from being a naval officer to becoming a part-time travelling bartender. Then, he landed a job as a drinks writer for Australian Bartender Magazine, and additionally, he wrote pieces for GQ, Sydney Morning Herald and other publications. Then, in 2004, he founded Behind Bars, an agency that trained up to 15,000 bartenders a year and hosted some of the most acclaimed cocktail and bartending competitions in the world. All of the above brought him into direct contact with cutting-edge cocktails.
It should come as no surprise then that he opened Eau de Vie to great fanfare in 2010; however, it takes a lot more than a good reputation to create a fantastic bar, which brings us back to the cocktails. “To this day I don’t know of many other bars – or any other bars at all – where cocktails are as dominant as they are at Eau de Vie,” said Sven. “Our cocktails really are what set us apart.”
Julian Serna manages the bar, and each week, the bartenders offer ‘This Week in Cocktail History’. The menu features vintage cocktails organized by decade. Try the Jackamao, a cocktail inspired by the past, adapted from “The Delicious Sour” by William Schmidt. It is fruity at first with apple brandy and Zubrowka, moving to a light floral acidity and finally hitting a subtle herbaceous finish. Delicious!
The bar also offers a selection of rare whiskeys of which even the most ardent fan would be jealous. In case you get hungry, you can order from a selection of bar snacks. Light plates include popcorn with rosemary and pecorino salt, or go for the Lamb Soppressata Mini Burger or the Duck Liver Parfait.
Finding Eau de Vie can be hard, but here’s the trick: find the Kirketon Hotel. Walk into the bar and keep walking, down the hall, past the bathrooms and through the door marked ‘exit.’ There, you will find one of Sydney’s best-hidden gems. “I should be a friggin’ ambassador for this city, I love it so much,” said Sven. “Sydney is so unique in that you can have a big-city lifestyle, yet have access to beaches and parks within minutes. Ah-ma-zing!”