Story by Cara Devine. Cara is our Melbourne-based drinks writer. She is the manager of Bomba in Melbourne and the face and talent behind the cocktailing YouTube channel Behind the Bar. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
As can be attested by the resurfacing of low-rise jeans and scrunchies, trends are circular. After the excesses of 80s disco drinks and lurid 90s ‘tinis, it’s unsurprising that a hallmark of the modern cocktail resurgence became a less-is-more approach, with simple glassware and garnishes hero-ing the obscure amaro or artisanal mezcal being presented.
And rightfully, questions have been raised around the sustainability of bar practices this minimalist approach has been pushed to the nth degree, with even fresh citrus falling out of favour in the most cutting-edge of venues. But sometimes, just sometimes, I miss the theatrics of an over-the-top serve – the kind that thrills, engages, makes you laugh and want to tell your friends.
“The name and presentation both have a great double meaning that can be played with a lot for clients. The name is a cheeky smile when ordering, and when served with the ring box… the look on the other person’s face and then the realisation that it’s a bottle opener is always a playful moment.” Dave Palethorpe, owner Cinco Lounge, Lisbon
Thankfully, theatre is not dead. I recently propped up the bar at Cinco Lounge in Lisbon, solo. I had brought a book of crosswords but needn’t have worried – the bartender kept up a string of friendly patter and magic tricks to amuse me. (Funnily enough, when this here magazine launched back in 1999, Dave contributed little magic tricks for the back page). But back to my drink. How could I not order the naughtily named Finger Ring? The unlikely mix of Fernet, bourbon, Guinness and tepache intrigued me but what was even better was when a brown-paper wrapped beer bottle was presented alongside a ring box.
The ring inside was also a bottle opener, placed ceremoniously on my ring finger for me to pop the bottle myself, once I’d stopped laughing. “The name and presentation both have a great double meaning that can be played with a lot for clients. The name is a cheeky smile when ordering, and when served with the ring box… the look on the other person’s face and then the realisation that it’s a bottle opener is always a playful moment,” says Dave Palethorpe, owner of the bar. Devilish banter.
At modern aperitivo bar Hey Palu in Edinburgh, the drinks are simple but the garnishes are thoughtful. I ordered a Godfather, and was presented with a perfectly balanced drink and a little hand-crank music box which, when wound, tinkled the eerie notes of the Godfather theme tune, prompting a hum-a-long for the whole group (admittedly an off key one; it was the end of the night). “We wanted a serve that required the guest to interact and most of all we wanted to initiate an emotional response. There are so many elements of the Godfather movie that are great, but everyone remembers the music,” explains director Alex Palumbo. He’s also proud of their Paper Plane serve. “We give the guest a square of paper and a QR code to follow a video on how to make a paper plane.
I ordered a Godfather, and was presented with a perfectly balanced drink and a little hand-crank music box which, when wound, tinkled the eerie notes of the Godfather theme tune, prompting a hum-a-long for the whole group.
Once the plane is ready the guest is given the opportunity to throw their plane from point, with the aim for it to hit any of the bottles on the back bar. If their plane hits a bottle they get a shot on the house from that bottle.” For him, it’s all about interaction, emotions and fun. And shouldn’t it always be?
Leaning fully into the artistry of OTT serves is the Absent Ear in Glasgow. Named for Van Gogh (GlasGogh – geddit?) this bar is hidden in the depths of a Merchant City basement, found only by spotting a self-portrait of the man himself. The menu is an iPad, and each drink is inspired by an artwork. The main flavours of each drink are listed, but for most the guest has a choice of three specifically chosen base spirits, eliminating the ‘but I don’t drink tequila’ element from cocktail selection – smart. I chose pisco over gin and vodka for my Pond Stretchers, a savoury martini-esque drink “inspired by Japanese flower gardens. It comes served with our house ‘pond algae’, lily pads & a garden gnome (possibly the single most stolen item in any bar in Scotland),” says bar manager Liam Grogan. “We love taking our service to the next level by thinking about where the drinks can sit in a wider mis-en-place.” The truly delicious Tequila Masala is a lassi-inspired serve that gives a nod to the city’s prevalent Indian restaurants, served on a thali plate with poppadoms and chutney – who doesn’t love a snack with their drink? My sister, though, had her heart set on one thing – the Apple Pie. The catch? “You have to let the wheel decide,” explained our server, before emerging with a wheel of fortune style spinner. Each sliver of the wheel was marked with one of three pie flavours – apple, cherry or pumpkin – and he solemnly spun the arrow which stopped resolutely on pumpkin before he wisely moved it a couple of spots to the desired apple (I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of my sister either). “It’s such a fun idea though, not knowing what you’re going to get. It’s like a game, gives you a bit of a thrill,” said Devine-Mulvaney… once she had the drink she wanted.
What all of these experiences have in common is that they could easily be
gimmicky, but are so well-executed and presented by talented professionals that it creates a memory. Do I recall every well constructed stirred-down drink served on a perfectly clear ice block with a circle of fruit leather I’ve ever had? No. Will I remember all of these? Absolutely. Shouldn’t that be something that we strive for? Give me a
Finger Ring any day.