If you go down to The Cuban Place today you’re sure for a big surprise. Its basement bar? Gone. Correction: replaced. And in its place is a new apothecary-themed cocktail bar by the name of Parke Davis.
There’s a good chance you’ve already stumbled onto Parke Davis already. Perhaps it was serendipitously after you missed your bus from the QVB and needed to kill some time with a cold one? Or maybe you accidentally uncovered it enroute to The Cuban Place’s mojito happy hour? You’re not alone.
On both counts.
Fact: Parke Davis snuck up on all of us. Even though they opened back in March (yes, really), their soft launch and subtle signage has meant ‘discovery by accident’ is one of the top answers for ‘how did you hear about us?’, with punters still wandering down their stairway in the early evening to ask for “two mojitos, please”.
It’s at this point when the bartender will direct them upstairs to Parke Davis’s older sister, The Cuban Place, to cash in on her two for one deal. “When we tell them (the customers) that we’re not The Cuban Place, they usually go, ‘Oh okay, we’ll come back after’,” says bar manager Neal Steigrad.
Do they? I ask a little too skeptically. “Yeah,” he says. “Most of them do.”
Now this could be the guilt of a promise speaking (more undue skepticism on my part), but it’s more likely the allure of this ‘50s-style lounge, its inventively playful cocktail list, and its vintage apothecary trimmings, that calls them back to Parke Davis’s doors. Just sayin’.
Sipping cocktails to ‘50s classics in Parke Davis. Here’s the lowdown:
The vibe: ’50s lounge bar and all that jazz.
Cuisine: Modern Australian share plates.
Ideal for: After work drinks, swing dancers, and date night.
Bartender’s choice: Sazerac Sphere ($19)
By the way... They have live music on Friday and Saturday nights, with a dedicated dance floor for all you swinging cats out there. And for designated drivers (or non-drinkers), ALL cocktails can be made non-alcoholic.
For those wondering, the name of the outfit is a homage to the days when the building was the headquarters of Parke Davis Pharmaceuticals. And its decor is themed likewise.
Follow the Broadway-style light bulb sign, and you’ll enter a warm, subterranean sanctum for the senses. ‘50s music breathes charm into the mood-lit room, and a motley of beakers, test tubes, and other ad-hoc scientific instruments (which were discovered in the building’s hidden basement), affix themselves to walls and onto space-dividing wooden shelves.
Vintage cocktail shakers dangle off hooks at the bar, pages from medical journals moonlight as wallpaper, and printed hessian sacks wrap around low dining stools. I long to sink into one of them, but then the Victorian-style armchairs by the back wall catch my eye, and I. Am. Torn.
By the bar is where you’ll find your resident drink slinger singing to Johnny Cash as he walks the line attending to happy hour orders (available Tuesdays to Thursdays from 5pm–7pm). “$6 for one or $12 for two,” he says cheekily while handing over two beers. They’ve only Asahi on tap, but wines, spirits, and some bottled beers are also part of the deal.
7pm strikes and the wine and beer glasses are replaced by tumblers and boards of cocktails. These concoctions are all Neal’s, and are a far cry from a seriously stiff drink in a stuffy millionaire’s library.
“Cocktails should be fun,” agrees Neal, who includes elements like a side of Hubba Bubba bubblegum to his Wyborowa bubble gum vodka-based cocktail, Bazooka, and a Chinese spoon full of popping candy for you to pick from with your salted caramel Cuervo Tradicional Tequila infused Nacho Libre.
You can expect more like-minded play-on-name drinks in the months to come, with rumours that a High Five, (accompanied by a high-five from your bartender) and a Your Number (which comes with a napkin and pen, for, well, your number), will be hot orders.
Until then, the one you’ll want to hit on a late night out is the Sazerac Sphere. Traditionally, it’s made by swirling a wash of absinthe in one old-fashioned chilled glass, mixing the remaining ingredients in another, and straining the concoction onto the absinthe wash. Neal takes this methodology, and gives it a good, hard, spin.
In his version he infuses 20 mL of absinthe into an ice sphere, then pours the Remy Martin VS Cognac, muscovado spice syrup, and Peychaud’s Bitters on top. The result is a slow infusion of absinthe into your drink as the ice melts throughout the night. By the time you’ve polished it off, the traditional 5mL of absinthe will have washed into your cocktail.
We know what you’re thinking: what of the other 15 mL? That’s the makings of an interesting evening. Once they know, Neal tells us people will do everything from licking to sucking the ice-ball to drain it of every millilitre of the green fairy.
His advice? Go back to the bar and ask for a top up. There’s a good four drinks in that sphere, and the night is young.
Address: Basement Level, 125 York St, Sydney
Opening hours: Monday to Thursday 5pm–12am, Friday and Saturday 5pm–1am
Phone number: (02) 9264 4224