There were those who said but a few years back that things had gotten a little crazy, when block-ice began to replace Lidcombe’s finest in their single malt. If you’re the kind of berk who thinks that getting a drink in Sydney that isn’t served in plastic is luxury, you’re in for a treat.
Alibi is an open, airy space, nestled behind the reception desk up the stairs from the street entrance to Ovolo, one of Sydney’s more youthful and upbeat hotels. Finding the entrance isn’t easy, not because it’s hidden a la every other bar in Sydney, it’s just that there isn’t really one in particular. Alibi comprises open areas in the hotel foyer (calling it this does little justice, actually, considering the size of the wharf on which it’s constructed–the largest of its kind in the world), that bleed into one other.
Large, comfortable chairs, a coffee machine, an elegant bar set up and casual restaurant seating are all partitioned from one another with furniture and semi-opaque walls, creating a sense of intimacy without sacrificing the vastness of the place. But, all in all, it’s another well-designed hotel lobby. It’s not until you take your seat at the bar that you realise where Ovolo are playing their best hand.
I’ve had some fancy f*cking cocktails in my time. Hell, I’ve made some fancy cocktails, in a previous life behind the stick. This though, is a whole new level of, what they’re calling it at Hollywood parties (I imagine), molecular mixology.
An unmarked faucet, which looks like it might spout pre-boiled water, reveals itself to be a liquid nitrogen tap. But of course. An aperitif style drink, Stranded, is placed in front of us: a sealed test tube filled with a honey-coloured liquid and flowers. It’s served on a bed of sand, like a message in a bottle. It deliciously reveals itself to be a mix of gin, lemon, foraged blueberries and botanicals. Another drink, named Harvest, is the colour of Kermit the Frog, and has a whole frozen apple inside the glass (though this is only to be seen when the apple-skin smoke clears).
Then there’s Hashtag, a playful riff on a classic Pisco Sour, which is served with two edible lipsticks on the side, but in a matte black coupette (we’re told this is a joke on how Espresso Martinis always look naff after they’ve been drained of their last drinkable drop: a lipstick-smeared glass lined with sticky, lacy foam).
An Escobar is a Margarita, but a really bloody good one. Mezcal and passionfruit work together in unexpected harmony and the liquid nitrogen, which “smokes” out of the glass gun in which it is served is a genius touch, and one which does nothing to spoil the drink (so often a great drink or dish can play second fiddle to its garnish: here, not so).
So just how, exactly, did a hotel bar in Wooloomooloo find itself with one of the best drinks lists this seasoned alcoholic has ever seen? It’s no accident.
The man behind the drinks is Bar Manager David Green. Green forged his path to the helm of Alibi via Zeta, at the Sydney Hilton (another bar known for its proclivity to get a little “fancy”), and Zephyr Sky Lounge. His menu at Alibi, however, is the culmination of a dozen years; perfecting his recipes, choosing garnishes that are completely out-of-the-box, and trial and error. Which he tells me when he serves my penultimate tipple, Enchanted Forest.
On paper, this is a hard cocktail to get your head around. Jagermeister, rum, cacao and portobello mushroom, amongst other things, are listed with just one descriptor: “decadent”.
“This took me two years to perfect”, I am told by Dave (we’re on casual terms by this stage). The ridiculous drink (pictured above) needed instructions on where to begin (I just bit in to the frozen, chocolatey, drippy, messy bastard of a garnish–one of them anyway–and went for it).
Delicious. Jagermeister, cacao and mushroom don’t go together, except for when they do, and they do at Alibi. This is what makes the place so hard to dislike. This cocktail menu is everything you want to call over the top, but it lacks all pretension. The staff are friendly, the room is welcoming: this is exactly the sort of place you’d want to spend money on the best cocktails you may ever see, without any of the wank.
We finish the evening with Snow Rye, a light, easy-to-drink cocktail, not dissimilar to an Army Navy, but much more feminine. All of the drinks are, actually. While every single cocktail we drank at Alibi was delicious, balanced, well presented, etc; this is not a place you’d go with the boys after a day on the tools. This is a place to bring a date.
One of the best, in fact. By a long margin.