Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Level 4, Hilton Hotel, 488 George St Sydney

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We should start by telling you a couple of things:

1. Although we’ve both been here before, neither of us have ever arrived here sober before this visit. We’ve already been, how do we put it... alcoholically stimulated in the past, so it was quite a novelty to turn up with all senses alert.

2. We had a two hour window to visit Zeta, before rushing off to a Sydney Film Festival movie, followed by a poker, tequila and kazoo-jam session. None of this is really relevant, we just really need you to know how awesome we are.

YOU IS PERDY. The first thing to make an impression was the light. It was 5pm (Nanna Hour to some, Cocktail Hour to others. Us, mainly) so the sun was just setting, a nice time to notice how bright the space was compared to the moody dimness of the bar after nightfall, the only way we’d seen it before. Not really a massive stretch of the imagination when you realise that the main wall is made of glass. Remember: alcoholically stimulated. But everything about this bar is chic; from the walls of glass, to the tall ceilings, dark wooden decor, and polished floorboards. There’s also a multitude of seating options: weeny chairs and tables, a lounge area, bar, private lounge dens or out on the terrace. Being one of the coldest June weeks in memory, our first position was next to the massive gas fire, located directly below the wall hanging of a man’s head in a lion’s mouth. Let’s just throw that out again, this time with the capital letters it deserves: The Wall Hanging Of A Man’s Head In A Lions Mouth.

He doesn't mind the heat of the fire. He's already inside a lion.

YOU GIVE GOOD TALKY. The bar offers table service, and the staff were very friendly upon meeting us – seating us, asking how we were and taking the time to monitor how chatty we might be before allowing themselves to get enthusiastic. This, our dear readers, is one of the most subtle and brilliant indicators of great service we can find. If a customer doesn’t want to chat, diving head first into a spiel about the origins of a drink or the fascinating idiosyncrasies of climate is not really going to cut it. It’s a mark of a good host to gauge the level of commitment to one’s drink and to the vagaries of conversation. The floor staff were exclusively female and exclusively gorgeous, so it was a good thing they were all very good at their jobs. Neither of us are shy about getting our bitch on if and when beautiful people give us a reason to complain. It’s genetically programmed into us, because we own vaginas. No complaints, though. About the service OR our vaginas.

Okay, okay. I’ll stop saying ‘vaginas’. 

 THE BEAUTIFUL OUTDOORS. Although inside was nice, we felt like we were only at the edge of the action on our pouffes, so we took a trip out onto the terrace where most of the patrons seemed to be gathering. Being more pub inclined, we love a good courtyard, and we’d venture to say that this is one of the best that the inner city has to offer. The view is of the top of the Queen Victoria Building, the enormity and beauty of which can only be appreciated from above with drink in hand. How good is sandstone?
Lorin said "That's the money shot!" a total of eight thousand times.

Although it was a ridiculously cold night, we were able to take our coats off and sit and enjoy our surroundings, such was the efficacy of the heating. There are even trees up here, four storeys above the street, and if you’re careful to blink at just the right moment, you too can look like a derro in a park when drinking in front of them. All that’s missing is a paper-bagged drink and the slurred phrase “Wha-choo looging at, yegunt?”. Classy and that.

Not pictured: flagon and scent of urine.

The main drawback of the terrace situation was easily the darkness – we needed a torch to read our menus (and to take hilarious and insightful notes). Happily, we happened to have a torch with us. You come drinking with Lorin and Jo, you come prepared. We can sort you out with anything once we open our handbags – torches, bottle-openers, little pepper grinders, musical instruments. That shit is like Batman’s dream utility belt, but without the hammy acting.

The only way you can see a ninja is if they self-illuminate.

THAT’S POETRY, THAT IS The cocktail menu is possibly one of our favourites so far. This is just food, liquidised. Some of the drinks are so unusual it’s like they got a five year old with a spectacular palate to design it. With choice phrases like “Smoked bacon and maple syrup Manhattan”, “Pineapple and coriander martini”, “gin & tonic jelly” and “served in a baked and caramelised lime shell”, it seems that most of the cocktails contain stunning novelty elements that make them stupidly fun to choose from. The menu is extensive and awesome. Zeta provides signature drinks, classics with a twist, and then if you really can’t handle studying the menu, they also offer the classics. Something for everyone, including the excruciating temptation to sample everything and subsequently forget your own name and address.


YOU LOT. Being situated in an international hotel as it is, the crowd morphs gradually from obvious hotel guests to local dressy tipplers as the hours pass. We felt right at home to start with, but all of a sudden the bar became quite “sceney” and a lot of people were eyeing each other off to see what each of them were wearing. This is probably more of a weekend phenomenon than a weeknight thing, and we do have a theory that most bars in Sydney on a Friday or Saturday night are just hell by another name, but we weren’t overly upset by the fact that we’d be leaving before the still-vacant DJ decks were occupied and the inevitable gyrating commenced. The music that was playing while we were there was so smooth and inoffensive it was barely noticeable. It was there. It did its job. Next.

WEE, ETC. We both remembered the bathrooms as being a little cooler than they actually are. Located up some well-hidden stairs, the main redeeming feature is a communal boy/girl sink/water feature, and the wee sit-down-in-front-of-the-mirror nook is the cuteness, but beige walls and tiles make it a little bland. All very lovely, just not as spunky as the rest of the bar. The designers seemed to run out of inspiration, but happily not toilet paper.

Be careful not to wash off the awesome.

DRINKY DRINKY: LORIN Vodka Dry: When asked what kind of Vodka I would like, I said that I didn’t mind. This was partly a test - the bar is sponsored by Belvedere so I was guessing that is what I would get, and bingo. This in no way shape or form is a bad thing. Belvedere is like mothers milk. That stuff is so goddamn smooth it’s dangerous. I’ve never been one to drink vodka on its own, but I could definitely give that a shot. I did make a note in my book saying “might call my child Belvedere” if that is anything to go by.

Which obviously makes this photo more than a little awkward.

My vodka dry was sensational, the dry wasn’t too overpowering and the vodka was a dream. The one thing that did annoy me was the glass it was served in. I might take this time to have a little rant about glassware. It has become apparent to me that all of my vodka drys are being served in tall glasses, while all of Jo’s Gin and Tonics are served in tumblers. I love a tumbler and I don’t understand why I always get the tall glass. It’s not like I’m ordering a cocktail or something mixed with lemonade, it’s dry! If you order a Scotch and dry it’s in a tumbler, why does vodka get the raw deal? I’m just putting it out there - if it’s brown, it should be in a tumbler. I’m probably wrong, but I don’t care, that’s how I feel.

Imagine how the candle feels.

Drink number two was the Zeta Prohibition Iced Tea With A Screwdriver Side. Tipping their hat back to the sad times when alcohol consumption was illegal, they have designed a drink so ninja-like that it manages to include four different types of alcohol, while making it taste like iced tea. Not only that, they serve said genius in a jar... in a paper bag... on a plate. It’s a jar in a bag on a plate. The novelty of this has still not worn off.

I don't think you understand. It's a jar. In a bag. On a plate.

At first I didn’t quite get why it was served on a mini platter with two slices of orange, then I remembered that in the drink description there was supposed to be Belvedere vodka injected into them. Sneaky vodka, it was hiding in the orange the whole time! It’s like ultimate half-time. Novelty aside, this is actually a really nice cocktail, a bit sweeter than any iced tea I’ve had, but still quite tart, not bad at all.

Don't EVEN tell me you wouldn't have done exactly the same thing.

DRINKY DRINKY: JO See, with gin and tonics, it’s the little touches that count. And also the gin. And.. and the tonic is kind of important, too. As is the ice. Okay, that started badly. Asked my gin preference, I opted for Tanqueray, and the drink came in a gorgeously voluminous tumbler (sorry, Lorin) with the perfect amount of ice and a great wodge of ruby grapefruit as garnish.

The tights are the traditional McDrunk tartan.

Our waitress poured the tonic in front of me from a single-serving bottle she brought over to the table, which was confusing only because the final drink was a little flat.

Not actual size.

 I don’t know how you get a flat drink from a single-serve bottle of tonic, but I was too busy appreciating the perfect ratio, generous pouring and whimsical garnish to turn green and rip my shirt over a slight lack of fizz. I wasn’t given a straw, which I liked – proper drinkers want to get in there, lips and all. If I ever commit a serious crime, I’d like to think I’m giving forensics teams around Sydney a fighting chance of scraping my DNA off the edge of a gin glass.

For my cocktail, after scrutinising the truly glorious and tempting menu by torchlight for what seemed like half an hour, I settled on one called simply ‘Tokyo’. Choya (Japanese sweet plum wine) infused plums muddled and shaken with vodka, more choya and sake. It was both warming and refreshing, with both sweet and sour notes. Lovely. The selling point, though, was the ice sphere. Yes, class, the ice sphere. Intentionally referencing Japanese precision and understated sculptural elements, the drink comes not with crushed or cubed ice, but a goddamn, mother-freaking SPHERE OF ICE. An orb of frozen water. So round. So cold. So much joy. So tempted to drop it off the terrace onto George St. Which you should never, ever do.



An astonishingly short time after.

To be the house bar of a hotel like the Hilton, you would expect great things, but Zeta is no ordinary hotel bar. This is a destination in itself. The crowd leave a bit to be desired, the bar itself is crowded enough to make table service your only option, and the terrace is a touch on the dark side, but the service is stellar, the d├ęcor beautiful, and the cocktail menu is a fascinating, creative and flavourful seductress with big boobs and a good bra.

In graph form, Zeta Bar looks like this:

See? It even looks like it's giving other bars the finger.

We’re giving Zeta Bar three and a half Jars-In-A-Bag-On-A-Plate out of five.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You look cute in that photo Jo. Perhaps great wodge of ruby grapefruit makes a good accessory as well as garnish.
Or it could be the tights.
Or it could be the slighty sozzled look i.e. easy pickings