Two thousand

Even before they've really arrived, everyone's sick of hearing the phrase "small bar." Tired analogies to other cities become exhausting to readers, while the hyperbole surrounding these new ventures must daunt the keen entrepreneurs (heroes?), who have thrown blood, sweat and life savings into creating original places for us to drink.

So let's see these ventures for what they are, not what they're like. Through an innocuous door, sitting just above Little Oxford Street, is Ching-a-lings. A compact, gritty interior that suits it surrounds is complemented by a cosy deck, with a polished drink menu on offer. There is no ostentation, no gimmick, no claims to being a child of the revolution. It is precisely what this city needs: an accessible, well-executed new option that's all ours.
Sydney city search

Wow, Ching-a-Lings is pretty cool. And not cool in a Reidel glassware, Dom Perignon kind of way. In fact it's the antithesis to everything other uber-cool, inner-city bars pride themselves on. Located in the heart Oxford Street's gritty end, your first challenge is finding it. Chances are you've walked past the door a thousand times, but for those who need to get their bearings, it's almost next door to Havana. As you ascend the stairs you might find yourself wondering what the hell you've gotten yourself into. It's dark, a bit industrial and a little bit share-house chic. The walls are exposed brick and the bar is low slung and recycled. Yes, it's very underground and exceedingly groovy.

Don't come here if you want to be dazzled by a smart wine list or drowned in an exciting and innovative cocktail list. Wines are house drops only, and it changes according to what the owners managed to get a good deal on. It's dished up in tumblers, which is sensible really - those thin stems on the standard wine glass have always been a liability. Beers are their way or the highway too: long necks of Melbourne Bitter and Coopers only. Can you dig it?

There's a DJ spinning vibes like a summer's day in one corner and the outdoor terrace is packed until it closes just before midnight. The crowd is young and cool, but there's no attitude and the overall atmosphere is overwhelmingly congenial. Ching-a-Lings is the ultimate in low-maintenance drinking. Come here if you just want a drink and don't want to be bamboozled with excess choice. No need to dress up, just make sure you're comfortable and you'll fit right in. Jessica Miller, December 2009
sydney morning herald

The quickest way to find this furtive drinking den is to ask for directions. A few doors up from the Columbian Hotel on Oxford Street is an innocuous door with a friendly chap standing out front. No sign, no line, no bullish bouncers or girls with clipboards.

The bar is up a flight of stairs but there's a distinct underground feel to it. Gritty brick walls and rendered concrete are sprayed with images of skeletons and lit by cages of old light bulbs. Like the interiors, the young-ish crowd oozes hipness, sitting on low couches and tall bar stools, chatting and grooving to the music.

DESPITE CLOVER MOORE extolling a city full of small bars and hip laneways, Ching-a-lings had a tough time when it opened in June. An uphill battle to use Little Oxford Street as the entry point proved futile when residents complained about noise in the laneway. The bar's owners, Jack Brown and Cameron Reid, were fined and ordered to reopen only when main-road access was created. This done, Ching-a-lings is back in the game.

FINE WINE AND FOOD are not the main attraction, unlike many of Ching-a-lings's small bar counterparts. Here, it's all about the beatnik vibe. There are no cocktails nor bar food; instead, house wines are served in tumblers ($7.50), longnecks of Melbourne Bitter or Coopers ($6-$9) are lined up in the fridge and it's simple mixer drinks only.

Without a wine or cocktail list to guide me, I ask the bartender to choose something and she gives me a sweet mix of Chambord and apple juice ($7.50). It's good enough for me and we take a seat at one of the skinny bar tables against the wall.

THE PLACE SWELLS WITH PEOPLE when the outside deck closes at 11pm but we still feel hidden away from the thronging masses on Oxford Street.

The DJ spins a chilled mix of hip-hop, funk and electronica and the crowd of flannelette shirts, thick-rimmed glasses and pixie haircuts talk louder.

I start to understand why Brown and Reid named their bar after an underground but hedonistic bikie gang. There are no gimmicks nor trimmings to keep you occupied, nothing to satisfy if your stomach starts to rumble, nothing elaborate to sip on if the sauvignon blanc begins to bore.

Come with good company and enjoy the booze, the beats and the chilled-out ambience