Let’s get the egregious punning out of the way first: Varnish is a polished performer.
It is also our idea of the perfect whiskey bar, dedicated to (but not solely) American brown spirits and magnificent bar/small plate food. There are not many bars in our Top 50 list in 2017-2018, but the calibre of Varnish’s food is such that it is a bona fide inclusion in the Top 50.
There’s something cool walking down a flight of stairs from street level and into a basement bar. It may be underground, but the decor is kept from gloominess with good lighting, raw timber finishes and the steady amber glow from a wall of back-lit whiskies.
Since it opened in 2014, owner Andy Freeman has kept innovating, but cleverly he hasn’t changed the concept one jot. It is still the cool whisky bar with 80s music on the speakers and some of the best cocktail makers in the business. If you like old school mixed drinks like a Sazerac, whisky sour or Manhattan, these guys make some of the best classic drinks in town. Both their booze and their techniques are exemplary.
So, what about that food? It stops short of being fairground-inspired dude-food, but it comes whimsically close. How about beef tendon crisps with burnt butter (unbelievably addictive), Sriracha buffalo wings, mac & cheese with speck takes Varnish’s mac ‘n’ cheese game to another level. Still hungry? Ox tongue with bourbon sauce and broccoli puree is pornographically good. So to braised beef shin with Jack Daniels & cola glaze.
Don’t forget to say “Hi” to Justin Beaver when you next call. The bar’s mascot – yes, it is indeed a taxidermied beaver – sits atop of the beer fridge to be precise There have been endless toasts to Justin over the years and one suspects for years into the future.