Mixing Your Drinks
by Kate Liquoish
Dozens of historians claim to have unearthed the origin of the term ‘cocktail’; all I can decipher for certain is that the term was coined somewhere between the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. Better known is the origin of the ‘cocktail hour’ said to be invented in the 1920’s by British author Alec Waugh who, after failing to entice guests to his ‘cocktail party’, bent a tea party thus by tricking his guests into drinking daiquiris (which they thought to be an iced sherbet of sorts). In his 1974 article in Esquire Magazine entitled "They Laughed When I Invented the Cocktail Party." he says he saw the need for "… Some kind of a party that starts at half-past five, that lasts ninety minutes, at which alcohol is served, but not too much food."
And the world rejoiced…and then spent the next few decades bastardising it by changing the name to ‘happy hour’, making the drinks as cheap and nasty as possible and adding a ‘two for one’ special that came with double the hangover.
Luckily the last few years have seen cocktails (in the tasteful sense) come back into fashion and Joburg has seen an influx of bars, both eccentric and exclusive, offering a magnificent assortment of apothecarian delights. I sought out to find the best of the best…
Marble: for a touch of class
Their aim is not so much to bowl you over with great feats of molecular mixology as to marry the opulent environment to the glass you hold in your hand (all of which happen to be crystal by the way). Their focus is on showcasing premium brands with elegance and sophistication, so expect Moet & Chandon, Absolut Elyx, Belleit Bourbon and Ketel One Vodka intermingled with subtle touches of bitters, smoked salt, freshly infused syrups and freshly squeezed juices. All but one of their cocktails are named after different types of marble and include The Italian Rose (Beefeater 24, Moet & Chandon, simple syrup and lime juice), a delicate and citrus-full swill, and the aptly named Chef’s Cocktail designed by David Higgs himself (Ron Zacapa 23, Galliano, clarified milk punch, mango syrup, garam masala, bitters and pineapple juice), a sensational tropical rum concoction that has a serious bite.
Trumpet on Keyes, Corner Keyes and Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank
The Marabi Club: for a bit of soul
Most people know the Marabi Club as The Pot Luck Club pop-up, but they’ve since moved onwards and upwards with a new menu and a new cocktail list in the making. You can visit the bar without a reservation, just a nominal R50 cover charge for the sensational live music. The moody interior is softly lit and divided into sections by sumptuous velvet curtains; you can choose between a seat at the plush bar, on one of the neighbouring armchairs or in the smoking lounge. As it stands the menu breathes new life into old classics with grapefruit and spiced old fashions, floral martinis and daiquiri fusions. The new menu looks to add a selection of mampoer-based creations that are bound to shake things up. In the meantime the smoked old fashioned (Makers Mark Bourbon, smoked sugar, bitters and smoke) tastes of Christmas by the fire, and the elderflower and rosemary martini (rosemary infused gin, lime, sugar syrup elderflower cordial) packs a fragrant and citrusy punch.
47 Sivewright Avenue, New Doornfontein
Exclusive Books Social Kitchen and Bar: for a little contemplation
A hidden gem in an unexpected setting: the back of a book store. Yes, EB Social Kitchen and Bar is tucked away behind Exclusive Books in the Hyde Park shopping centre and, whilst that might make it sound dark and poky, it’s actually strikingly styled, majestic and sunlit. The brass bar is framed by floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking northern Johannesburg. Here you’ll find a selection of what I’d describe as refreshing, rather than spirit-forward cocktails. They’re soft, understated and not overtly intoxicating. The current list is dedicated to famous novels and favourites include The Door into Summer (Tanqueray Ten with Pimms, ginger ale and seasonal fruit), the perfect titillation for a hot summer’s day, and the slightly harder-hitting Ulysses (Bulleit bourbon with sherry, tawny port and raspberry on crushed ice), served ice cold but gives a warming, slightly nutty kick.
Exclusive Books, Hyde Park Corner
Tonic: for a hint of the feminine
The modish yet quirky design lends itself to easy-drinking afternoons and urbane evenings. It’s owner-run by husband and wife team Caitlin and Dennis Human who turned their gin stand at the Linden Market into a dedicated gin bar on 7th Street. The design reflects Caitlin’s background in fashion: I think I’d call it retro chic. There’s also a feminine touch that runs through the cocktails both in terms of their flavour profiles and their aesthetic. Signatures include The Basil Box (Six Dogs Blue, lime, sugar syrup, basil, Cointreau, smoky aroma), their take on the classic margarita: fresh and herbaceous, and The Spice Club (pomegranate syrup, Ginologist spiced gin, Martini Bianco and a lavender and gin mist), a deliciously perfumed, ever so slightly sweet, but exquisitely balanced creation. It must also be said that they make a damn fine martini.
32 7th Street, Linden
Saigon Suzy: for a splash of frivolity
It’s a wacky ode to the back alley bars and restaurants owners Sarra and Bruce encountered whilst travelling across Asia. The cocktails are floral and fruity, for the most part giving an Asian slant to classics with the addition of specially imported liqueurs from the Far East and ingredients like yuzu, litchi, coconut and homemade plum wine liquor. These aren’t ‘knock your socks off’ cocktails; they’re light, citrusy and err on the side of sweet. Recommendations include Sour Suzy Says (Dewars 12 year old whiskey, yuzu and jasmine tea), a kind of floral whiskey sours, and the Lotus Flower (Grey Goose vodka, litchi, Sirop D’lavande, bubbly), which I’d describe as beguiling litchi Aperol spritz. AND they have private karaoke rooms upstairs that are raucously good fun.
144 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood
Sin & Tax: for the personal touch
Tucked away down an alley adjacent to Coalition on Bolton Road, it was the first speakeasy to ‘appear’ in Johannesburg. The intimate space is dotted with candlelit tables bordering an exquisitely ornamented bar adorned with beautiful bottles of handcrafted bitters, tonics, syrups and mists. Run by award-winning barman Julian Short the aim is to give patrons an exceptionally personal cocktail experience. The barmen will devise to marry one of their 12 diverse signatures to your taste or create something even more tailor-made if the need arises. Every cocktail is crafted meticulously to create perfect flavour balance and structure so it’s almost impossible to recommend just two from the list, but the OISHI AF (Coconut water, lime leaf, lemongrass, sesame and Blanco Tequila) is a soft and savoury umami delight and the UMESHU (Plum Wine, Ron Zacapa 23, cinnamon, vanilla husk, bay leaf, nori) I can only describe as a kind of sweet and spicy hug.
2 Bolton Road, Rosebank
Mootee Bar: for an education
Owned and run by four of South Africa’s most award-winning mixologists, visiting this bar is as much an education as it is an experience. They have an in-house laboratory with the kind of gastronomic equipment that would make Blumenthal blush: a rotary evaporator, a centrifuge and a sonicprep to name but a few. The menu reads something like an apothecary’s notebook; the cocktails are distinguished by flavour notes rather than ingredients and the pictorial representations are works of art. Each cocktail centres on an African fable and uses the most enchanting and astonishing ingredients: lotus bean, lapsang souchong, Baobab, egg shell…but without sacrificing function for form. The cocktails are honestly all breath taking. Try the Port of Hope (smoke, peach, light bitter), it’s slightly perfumed and smoky with soft stone fruit, and the Mashonza (smoke, fynbos, naartjie), a voyage through a salty, smoked, Aperol-tequila haze – it’s sounds mad, but it’s the only way I can describe it!
78A 4th Avenue, Melville