These days, a great cocktail is a staple for any nightlife establishment and bartenders are no longer called thusly, they are called Mixologists. I welcome this trend of finally appreciating an art which has long been overlooked, even though it seems a bit precious. Sipping a fantastic cocktail can be a vacation in and of itself but when you find that perfect mix of bitters and sweet overseas, well then you are truly transported into another culture. Cocktails don’t need to be fancy either to catch the local vibe and personality of a place. I found four wonderful haunts and their signature cocktails in Melbourne, Singapore, Guatemala City and Port of Spain, Trinidad. Each cocktail is very unique and each comes with its own story and wonderful memories of my trip abroad, a place where I was transformed by smell, sight and taste into another world.
I sought this place out for two reasons. It was in my Wallpaper Guide and being obsessed with Borsch, I had a copy of their cookbook in my store. Polish cuisine in Melbourne? Why not. A hipster hangout with Bloody Marys that put them on the map?
Sign me up. It was a long walk into another part of town but after having breakfast at a local cafe I immediately headed for Borsch, Vodka and Tears. Isn’t every breakfast better with a Bloody Mary after? B,V & T is based on an old Crakow cellar bar and serves two different types of Borsch – Russian and Polish. I ordered the Russian version, my favorite, and then watched a master at work create a meal in a glass known as a Bloody Mary. As you can see the chef was proud of his work, as was I. I felt very cool sitting in this place, watching the traffic and vintage punk-style walk by. Melbourne is a melting pot after all and it seemed very apropos to slurp Russian soup, sip American Bloodys and observe Australian life.
City: Singapore. Place: Bar Stories. Drink: bespoke cocktail
Tucked upstairs from a cafe and set in a vintage fifties furniture store by day, Bar Stories is a fantastic find on Little Arab Street in Singapore. This bar uses every inch of the small space allotted for its liquid creations and the young craftsmen have everything from chicken broth to fresh lavender at their fingertips. Walking in, I found a seat at the bar and was told that there is no menu. “What are you in the mood for?” my Mixologist asked. I was hot and tired yet I wanted something with a kick. He immediately went to work and I forgot about my fatigue as I watched him smell different ingredients, deciding what to add and what to discard, furiously pulling things from the shelves. The cocktail placed in front of me took a good ten minutes to make but was truly a work of art.
Vodka with spice, sweet but savory and on top was a snow cone of shaved ice with freshly sliced ginger and mint blended in. I took one sip and was instantly refreshed and awake. Glancing around the bar/showroom I saw similar looks of bliss on patron’s faces. We were all lucky to have found this place and experience the talent of our Bar Stories saviors.
City: Guatemala City. Place: El Portal. Drink: Michelada.
Discovering a forgotten city is a joy when traveling. Zona 1 in Guate, as they affectionately call Guatemala City, is the oldest part of the city and had fallen to ruin and crime until recently. Now it is experiencing a resurgence and all the colonial architecture is being appreciated again, along with unique stores and bars. El Portal is located in an alley off of Paseo Mejor across from the famous Guatemala Cathedral church. Che Guevara used to enjoy his leisure time there and it hasn’t changed a bit since then. Regardless of the daylight outside, the minute people walk inside El Portal it is instantly dark, a permanent happy hour, enhanced by dark wood furniture and Marimba music.
The balcony above hosts live music many days of the week and the cheap but delicious aperitivos are plentiful. After touring the city’s historical treasures slip into this hidden gem and order a Michelada. All the bartenders there make excellent drinks and this is the nation’s signature cocktail. Beer, tomato juice, salt, lime, hot sauce. Simple and brilliant. I will never drink one again without thinking of El Portal and my architectural and art tour of Guatemala City.
City: Port of Spain. Place: Angostura Bitters Distillery. Drink: Jolle Dame.
After a tour of the infamous Angostura Bitters Distillery, I was honored to meet the winner of the Global Cocktail Challenge, Daniyel Jones. Even more amazing was that he made me his award-winning Jolle Dame cocktail using Angostura Bitters. He is more than just a Mixologist – charming, handsome and magical, he puts love into each drink he makes. Trinis swear by their Angostura Bitters, the recipe is top secret and has never been released, and many Trinis say their food recipes wouldn’t be as tasty without this simple addition. The same seems to go for their cocktails. The Jolle Dame cocktail was certainly an experience to observe as well as to taste. First, Jones uses a torch and burns cinnamon until it is smoking. He then captures the smoke inside cocktail glasses so his drink is infused with its burnt flavor. Then the fun begins. White rum with vanilla notes, ginger-infused simple syrup, lime juice, fresh pineapple and the very important two dashes of Angostura Bitters. Garnished with a rose petal and the romance is complete. Impossible to recreate at home, I only need to see the picture to feel transposed to the tropical island, warm breezes surrounding me, a Jolle Dame mere moments away.
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