High Jinks is a key ingredient in Canberra’s cultural precinct of New Acton, which is home to two 5-star hotels, a boutique hotel, an arthouse cinema and seven restaurants. High Jinks is right in the middle of the action, and the go-to for ‘silly goose times’, as the team likes to say. Found in the basement of a historic and heritage building, with an understated art deco interior and a neat selection of rockabilly tunes, you’re transported away from the world outside.
Behind the bar you’ll find Noriel Calub (Noz), both the owner and the bartender, at your service. Noz and the team deliver good old-fashioned hospitality and maintain the ethos of selling “experiences, not drinks”. The team takes pride in remembering people’s names and their favourite drinks. The intimate yet lively setting draws a solid amount of regulars who are just happy to sit and be part of the action, while they spark random conversations with other guests. “The vision was to create a sense of community for the precinct within the 60pax venue,” says Noz, though under current restrictions, the bar is capped at 25pax. “A place where patrons could grab a drink, hang out, lose time catching up with friends, have date nights or host a special event.”
Noz and his team are most proud of their cocktail list, which is built around takes on classic cocktails and driven by local fresh produce. The design brief always leans towards light, aromatic and textural, or what Noz refers to as ‘comfort cocktails.’
The drinks menu consists of a tight list of Canberra district wines only, craft beers and seasonal cocktails that the team creates. The growing backbar takes the path less travelled: from hard-to-find Aussie gins and a ton of bitters, to a thoughtful selection of whiskey, including the team’s favourites, Edradour Caledonia, Kilkerran 12 and, currently, Lark Hill PX cask (while it lasts).
Noz and his team are most proud of their cocktail list, which is built around takes on classic cocktails and driven by local fresh produce. The design brief always leans towards light, aromatic and textural, or what Noz refers to as ‘comfort cocktails.’ “When a guest reads our cocktail menu, it should feel approachable and comfortable while also intriguing”, says Noz. “It should spark interest and excitement, and perhaps trigger a conversation with the very staff that created the cocktail. At the same time, we never shy away from using modern techniques in our design.”
The modest menu of nine cocktails incorporates ferments, fat-washes, sodas and shrubs, which are thoughtfully used to enhance the drinking experience. There’s also a heavy hand of anything bitter and vermouth. The menu extends beyond the word on the page to the chalkboard on the backbar. There, the signature Lord Jim Zombie reigns supreme. (The story behind the eponymous Lord Jim, whose portrait sits proudly beside the chalkboard, is a secret for those in the know, or those that ask…)
To cap off a patron’s visit, they are offered a low-proof house-made Limoncello. It’s made using the spent lemon peels from the prepped lemon juice, infused with botanicals and with a little special sugar added, and then strained off and served chilled. It serves as a palate cleanser and a thoughtful token of appreciation for visiting the bar.
Noz is particularly focused on the strong relationships in the industry. That starts hyper-local: the food on the menu comes from the restaurants just upstairs, with the team working closely with the chefs to create some tasty food options just for High Jinks (including potato and cheese croquettes, chorizo with pickled lemon, spiced chicken wings and tasty pizzas). “New Acton has a real sense of community – a combination of all the venues, local residents, hospo and office workers,” says Noz. “Just now, in fact, all the venues are working together to organise an annual precinct event in the communal courtyard, which will aim to have live music, showcase local winemakers and food from all the neighbouring tenants, and drinks catered by High Jinks.”
The sense of community extends to working with local wine makers to create special tasting events. High Jinks has teamed up with the likes of Archie Rose, Adelaide Hills Distillery, Ironbark, Joadja Distillery for fun tasting sessions. Four Pillars and Applewood distillery will also be dropping by in the coming months.
Noriel and his team have made experimenting and evolving a key part of the bar’s modus operandi. Cocktail classes, which started as a one-off post-lockdown, have become a sold-out affair on the last day of every month. Every season, the High Jinks team creates and curates its brand new cocktail list. New and rare whiskeys and liqueurs have found themselves onto the backbar. And an extra-special wine list being added for those who have a more refined palate and to showcase the best of Canberra wines. It’s all in Noz’s pursuit for the perfect bar experience.
All that effort is not going unrecognised. High Jinks has been nominated for six awards in this year’s Annual Bartender Magazine Australian Bar Awards – the most any ACT bar has ever received. Noz is up for ‘Bar Manager of the Year’, with the bar itself up for New Bar of the Year, Regional Bar of the Year, ACT Bar of the Year and ACT Cocktail Bar of the Year.
Finally, but certainly not least, Issey Larcombe is nominated for Host of the Year. As one of the most nominated bars in the country, this small bar punches way above its weight.
Originally an 18th century drinking game, the term ‘high jinks’ commonly refers to carefree and rambunctious fun. No matter the occasion, you’re certain to have some high jinks at High Jinks.