Much like bumping into someone you knew when they were all pimples and braces to find that they are now a beautiful adult with interesting opinions and style, Perth’s cocktail scene is all grown up.
Cocktails are no longer sickly sweet, froth and bubble for girls who aren’t sure if they like the taste of alcohol but are sure they want to get smashed. They are now for people who know how to savour their tipple and Perth’s best bars are paying as much attention to the entire experience as to the individual drink.
Whatever the base spirit, there is one key ingredient to a successful cocktail bar — it should make you feel more clever, stylish and more sophisticated than you thought you were (or may actually be).
Whether it is Halford Bar’s contemporary take on an intimate 1950s cocktail lounge, the casual, friendly chic of Strange Company, or the bright and breezy rooftop terrace of Hadiqa, the best bars will have well-trained, knowledgeable and passionate bartenders who are creating cocktails that are both playful and intriguing.
The classic three-four ingredient cocktails enjoyed a comeback a few years ago, but if you want to see where cocktails are now and where they are headed, Halford Bar, a hidden gem in the city, is a good place to start. Nestled in the former safe room of the Treasury Building, and furnished with velvet lounge chairs, deep sapphire walls and just the right amount of burnished gold, Halford Bar’s decor is a subtle challenge to try something a little more complicated than your go-to tipple.
Owner John Parker says the Halford ethos is best typified by its take on the classic martini. Made with a base of Tanqueray No. 10, Lillet Blanc and the salty punch of anchovy-stuffed olives, it is counterbalanced with a hint of sweetness from an apricot brandy rinse.
“Our Cold Brew Martini is still our most popular cocktail, but we are finding that people will order different cocktails so that they can try each other’s,” Mr Parker said.
“Typically, people will only have three drinks, and they want them to be worth savouring. That means using really good ingredients, from the alcohol to the garnishes of dehydrated fruits and syrups that we make up ourselves.”
Just down the road at Hibernian Place, Andy Freeman’s Hadiqa takes its inspiration from the courtyard gardens and flavours of the Middle East. Sit on the rooftop terrace and watch the gorgeous young things greet friends with smiles and kisses. It’s a perfectly sophisticated cocktail setting. From a list infused with the flavours of the Arab world (spices, orange, rose, mint and lemon), Its Fig Sour is an enlivening blend of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, fresh lemon, fig and egg whites. While the not-as-sweet-as-it-sounds Turkish Delight Martini is their top-selling cocktail, bar manager Frazer Devine said it was one of his favourites.
“I came up with that one because the chef had these fabulous pickled figs on the menu and the by-product of that was basically a delicious balsamic fig vinegar,” Mr Devine said.
“The figs aren’t on the menu anymore, but fortunately I collected enough to keep the cocktail.”
Down in Fremantle, house-made syrups and shrubs (drinking vinegars) are also the key to Strange Company and Ronnie Night’s award-winning cocktails, according to co-owner Darcy Travers.
“People are so much more educated about food and drinks and bartenders are looking to create complex, well-balanced cocktails, because they like making them too, but in the context of a bar, you can’t spend all night making one drink,” Mr Travers said.
“Shrubs, tea-based syrups and kombuchas offer the opportunity to introduce complexity into a cocktail, but they are only one ingredient on the night.”
A case in point is the Soldado which combines bourbon with the flavours of Amaro Averna, Lapsang Souchong tea, cardamom, lemon and foamy egg whites.
And if all this sophistication doesn’t sound like your scene, get down to Ronnie Nights.
Described as Strange Company’s younger, naughtier sibling, Ronnie Nights is decorated to evoke a 1970s house party and the cocktail list has a couple of ’80s favourites.
“I told the team they had to have Midori and Malibu on the menu,” Mr Travers said.
“It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but you can get a good balance with the right ingredients and make a good drink.”