... a dreamer, freelance writer, massage therapist, naturopath, mother & drop-out social work student living, working and writing in the Blue Mountains. When not occupied with the real world, she writes fantasy.
Published August 6th 2012
Cool Sydney Island experience and chill spot by the sea
The Island Bar- a cool place to grab a banana chair and cocktail and go sit in the sun.
When we ask for directions to the Island Bar, the man at the Cockatoo Islands' Visitor's Centre looks suddenly excited. "It's the place where people are sitting around in the sun in banana chairs looking out over the ocean," he enthuses.
If I had to describe the essence of the Island Bar experience, this would be it. Sun. Lounging. Ocean. All accompanied by an upbeat island festival vibe. Plus, as the Visitor's Centre guide hinted, this place is popular.
The delicious Lost at Sea - mulled, spiced and honeyed wine.
The biggest percentage of the sum total of this experience is the location itself.
The simply, yet aptly named Island Bar, is located on Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour's largest Island. Cockatoo Island is world heritage listed and is currently one of the sites of the Biennale of Sydney.
Patrons watching the sun go down on the Island Bar
The island which has a former past as a prison, industrial school, reformatory and shipyard, can be found at the junction of the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers. It contains many remnants of its industrial past including old buildings, wharves, slipways, huge workshops and World Heritage listed prison buildings which form part of a series of eleven Australian Convict Sites.
All that history aside, essentially Island Bar is an experience of the beautiful Sydney Harbour and it's coves, sailing vessels and waterfront homes. On a glorious day, this is an Island adventure Sydney style. Sure, this isn't the Whitsundays, but the Island Bar with its island themed décor including deck chairs, shade umbrellas, red splashes of bougainvillea and waving palms, offers an experience which though not authentic (the grass is fake for instance), is probably the closest you are going to get to island feeling in good old Sydney.
Watch the boats sail by. Vessels like these form part of the picturesque sea panorama on Island Bar.
The Island Bar keeps variable hours according to the seasons, so take a look at the Island Bar website before you come. For instance, in December and January it is open every day of the week, but in June, days of operation reduce to Friday to Sunday. Its hours of operation are from 11.30am until 6pm, although in summer hours are extended. Essentially this is a day venue. You will get why if you go there. Apart from the undercover areas such as the marquee and the soon to be re-opened upstairs section, the whole place is outdoors. The other reason lies in the fact that unless you are staying on the island, you will need to catch the ferry out.
Island Bar's fab staff member Stefano - let him serve you a cocktail or two.
Apparently in summer this place pumps. If you are coming in summer arrive early if you want to sit down.
Food and Drink at the Island Bar:
The Island Bar offers an Italian-based menu featuring rustic type pizza's with ultra-thin crusts and other offerings such as antipasto. Food service is available all day within the opening hours. The cocktail menu is sailor themed with such offerings as the double rum Navy Grog and the tequila based Ship Cobbler. My personal favourite was the fabulous spicy, honeyed mulled wine "Lost at Sea". You can also purchase wine, champagne, beer, cidar or juice with your choice of spirits. For those avoiding alcohol, the usual tea and coffee, juice and soft drinks are also available.
Cocktails are sailor themed. The Navy Grog at the Island Bar has a double shot of rum.
Dining here is like having a drink and snack in a friend's backyard. It's the relaxed casual el-fresco atmosphere and the weather-worn, slightly old, outdoor furniture. But, just like your friend's place, all you have to do is chill. She's even pumped up the music and lit the candles for you.
Fairylights and candles create cosiness in the indoor marquee.
Having one's pizza delivered to the table in cardboard boxes minus cutlery does evoke an atmosphere of being away from the mainland and its conveniences. You also have to factor into the equation the logistics of transporting and storing food on an island. In fact, the food service aspect of the bar came more as a progressive development to avoid people getting trashed at Island Bar. It's certainly a development I like.
The indoor marquee offers the al fresco experience with a cosy shelter from the elements..
The Island Bar is the perfect place to take tourists, soak up some sun and sea and hang out with your friends. For something to do on the weekend, it's a top idea. Island Bar also makes an excellent venue for functions like birthdays, work parties and Christmas parties. To book a function go to the Island Bar's official website.
The cities young and beautiful come here seeking a slice of island life in the city. With it's nightclub style music and fun atmosphere the Island Bar is young at heart. One could also say that like any youth it is finding its' feet. With its artificial lawn, installed picket fence railings and industrial style décor it does have a feeling of a collapsible construct.
In fact, the television series Lost came strongly to mind when I first glimpsed the bar from the distance. There is that same sense of the past and its relics combined with the flashy recent intruders. The clientèle, despite their more cosmopolitan clothing, also look like they could be on the set of Lost. They tend to be in the twenty to forty range, with many pretty young things amongst the ordinary home-spun characters and even the token parent and child.
A group of friends at Island Bar. Island Bar also caters for functions.
Speaking of children, the Island Bar does allow children and has a dedicated children's area away from the bar. However, you won't see too many of them, if any. This is not really a place to take young children since they aren't generally that conducive to sitting still and shutting up while you slowly swig a cocktail and try to chill out in front of an ocean view. But, don't let me deter you from trying.
The Island Bar - strange mix of industrial relics, historical island setting and modern clientele.
If you don't like loud modern music, you'll probably want to go somewhere else. However, I will qualify that to say the music isn't ultra-loud. You can certainly carry on a conversation without yelling.
The Island Bar - feels like you're on an island in the city.
How to get to the Island Bar
Getting to the Island Bar is a massive part of the experience. Don't discount it. Considering that the Island Bar can only be accessed by boat of some description, the journey is an inseparable part of the Island Bar experience. Assuming you don't have a private yacht parked in Sydney Harbour, you have two options: the ferry or a water taxi. There is no entry fee to the island itself.
Ferry arriving at the wharf at Cockatoo Island. What a great way to get around.
The island is serviced quite well by Sydney Ferries. You can catch a return ferry from Circular Quay, Woolwich/ Balmain or Parramatta. Choosing a wharf other than Circular Quay can be more convenient in terms of parking and may be closer to where you live.
Enjoy the magical experience of Sydney Harbour at night on your return ferry ride.
As a Blue Mountains resident, I parked by the wharf at Olympic Park and caught the ferry from there. It saved on travel and parking costs into Circular Quay and meant a quicker return car ride home at the end of the day. The return ferry ride was a little tricky since there was no direct ferry ride back to Olympic Park. I took the ferry back to Circular Quay and from there caught another to Olympic Park - a longer, though very enjoyable experience.
Sydney Ferries has wheelchair access if this is a requirement. Go to the Sydney Transport Infoline website for more information on timetables, fares and wharves that pick-up to Cockatoo Island.
As part of the 18th Biennale of Sydney, Sydney Ferries is offering a free ferry service to Cockatoo Island from Circular Quay. Go to NSW Transport Info to read more about this. Please note the Biennale concludes this year on 6th September 2012.
To catch a water taxi in, call Aussie Water Taxi's on 02 9211 7730 or Yellow Water Taxis on 02 9299 0199.