High Spirits in the Rocks

By Fergal Gleeson

The Doss House and Frank Macs are two of Sydney’s coolest bars. I caught up with founder Ciara Doran for the back story.

The Doss House

The Doss House is a ‘speakeasy’ bar with a hidden entrance off George Street in the historic Rocks district. It creates a sense of mystery which builds as you descend the steps to this below ground pub.

The Doss House has the feel of a Manhattan Whiskey bar with the pressed metal ceiling, the American oak and glass fit out and the 150 whiskies on offer.

The building has been beautifully restored to maintain original features, such as the sandstone walls, fireplaces, and timber beams.

Ciara took me through the building’s rich heritage which dates to the 1840’s. “The building was once a boarding house for sailors, also known as a ‘doss house’.”

“The concept of The Doss House is to pay homage to the building’s history and honour the past tenants,” she says “by offering customers a unique experience, that combines historical elements with contemporary twists.”

The room called ‘Un Quoy’s Den’ is adorned with Chinese prints and artifacts including an opium pipe reflecting it’s history as an opium den.

‘The Bootmakers’ is filled with stitched leather Chesterfield lounges and armchairs echoing another former tenant.

Origin Story

Ciara is from Wexford in Ireland. Her journey in the drinks business began after university with her involvement in events in Ireland, the Greek Islands, Peru and Australia.

She always dreamed of owning her own business. In 2018, that dream became a reality when she opened The Doss House.

In an industry that has traditionally been male dominated she admits that being a female bar owner has been both challenging and rewarding.

“I have had to work hard to establish myself,” she says. “I also believe that being a woman in this industry has given me a unique perspective that has allowed me to bring a fresh approach to the bars I run.”

“By advocating for change and working together, we can create a more diverse and equitable industry that benefits everyone.”

What’s hot in Whiskey?

The global whiskey market is estimated to be worth US$80 billion and is growing at a rate of between six and eight per cent a year, with lots of innovation.

Ciara talked me through the latest trends which include distilleries experimenting with alternative grains like quinoa, oats, and ancient grains like spelt and kamut.

Smoked whiskey is also gaining popularity. This technique involves using smoked malt or aging the whiskey in barrels previously used to age smoked foods like bacon or barbecue.

Other cask finishes that are trending include aging whiskey in wine, rum and port barrels.

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important as are the release of single barrel offerings.

Doss House Experiences

The Doss House offer a variety of Whiskey Masterclasses for those looking to learn about the history and production of whiskey. Options include ‘The Last King of Scotland’, ‘Give Peat a Chance’, ‘Cadigal Land’ (Australian whisky), Uisce Beathe (Irish whiskey).

While whiskey is the theme at the bar cocktails, spirits , wine and beer including Guinness on tap are also served.

It’s a popular venue for corporate events, birthday parties, celebrations, private functions or a quick ‘one for the road’.

The New Venture: Frank Mac’s

Just a few doors up from The Doss House is Ciara’s newer venture Frank Mac’s, a gin and cocktail bar, which opened in 2021.

The venue’s name pays tribute to her Great Uncle, Frank Mac, a local character who was known for his love of a good drink and passion for a stylish hat. Hats feature throughout the bar.

Like the Doss House, Frank Mac’s reflects Ciara’s passion for repurposing heritage listed buildings into sophisticated, character driven venues.

The upstairs has the feel of an Irish ‘victorian era’ bar. The downstairs with it’s elegant styling, feels like the lounge room in a boutique hotel.

Ciara remarks “What we’re seeing right now is gin’s golden age. It’s really having its moment so it’s great that we can showcase some of the best brands from around the world.”

We recently enjoyed a Gin Masterclass, ‘Gins of the World’, learning about Gin’s history, production and versatility. We tasted gins from Ireland, England, Australia, Japan and Italy.

The diversity in the botanicals used and in the flavours was pronounced.

“One of the coolest things about gin right now is its versatility and ability to add unique flavours to cocktails. The distinct botanicals in gin allow mixologists to get creative with their cocktail concoctions!”

Frank’s ‘Bottomless Brunches’ are also legendary and are run from Friday to Sundays.

You can wash down delights such as arancini, cheeses and meat boards with Mimosas, Bellini’s, Gin Spritzs and Roses.

Apart from the ‘Bottomless Brunches’ both venues offer sharing platters, gourmet sandwiches, and snacks.

Counting Stars

You might also find yourself counting stars! The bars have become a haunt for touring musicians when they are in Sydney.

Recent visitors have included American pop stars OneRepublic and Irish singer songwriter Dermot Kennedy.

Ciara also has exciting plans for her own whiskey brand. She is working with an Irish distiller to create a single malt whiskey for The Doss House.

“The barley was grown by my father on the farm that I grew up on, so it’s a project that is very special to me.”

More high spirits in the Rocks!

How to get there:

Both venues are 5 minutes walk from the Circular Quay Light Rail Stop or Train Station.

Frank Mac’s, 83 George Street, The Rocks  Sydney               http://www.frankmacs.com.au

The Doss House, 77/79 George Street, The Rocks Sydney    http://www.thedosshouse.com.au

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s