Friday, July 23, 2010

Blu Bar

36th Floor, Shangri-La Hotel, 176 Cumberland Street, The Rocks

If you’ve stumbled here by accident, you might want to click here first, to see what we’re doing. If you’ve stumbled here on purpose, you can wait for those other guys here. They won’t be long.

For this review, we enlisted the help of some experienced and enthusiastic drinking buddies – Babs, Threaders, Butters, Billo and Pepper. It’s often good to have a fresh perspective, even if it does mean fewer delicious peanuts per person. Most of us had been here before years ago, and remembered a high-class, whispered awe, sterling-silver-service experience. Unfortunately, like hairstyles, hundred-dollar bills and public tolerance for New Kids On The Block, some things change over time.

 UP UP AND WA-HEY We’re not going to lie, this is a pretty classy venue. There’s something about entering a five star hotel, traveling 36 floors and arriving on top of a beautiful city - it kind of smacks you around the head and tells you to pay attention, albeit with a cashmere glove and a thank you note afterwards. This bar has one of the most ridiculous views of Sydney Harbour available. Fact. Located at the triple-nosebleed level of the Shangri-La hotel, Blu Bar is pretty much walls of glass with a bar inside.

Oh, so you wanted clear, non-blurry photos? Yeah, that's a shame.

Split into two sections, the first being the bar area which has long tables and a western view of the city, it also has a blue bar. I know, right? The second is the lounge area, with a view extending from Glebe to Cremorne Point and beyond, yet no bar. There is a tiny wee bar cart, though, and we’re currently accepting double-spaced typed submissions explaining why, when drinks are just waitered in from the other room.

Please explain. Also: Scotch, thanks.

Regardless, with ceiling high glass walls, this view is pretty gob-smacking. The pity is that only four tables really get to enjoy it - everyone else has to sit in the cheap seats and yet pay the same prices. That’s like going to a swingers party and then just shaking hands all night. Cough. Apparently.

This picture is here so you forget we mentioned swingers parties.

We were told earlier in the week that Blu Bar doesn’t take table bookings, so we gave our names to the affable lass at the door to be put on the waiting list for the lounge and found a table in the bar area. It was busy for a Thursday, and it was three quarters of an hour until we were able to move through to the more visually-spectacular lounge, but we completely understood that it’s harder to seat seven people than just two or three.

BAR BLING Luckily there was a massive menu to keep us occupied while we were waiting. Great mounds of Parton, this thing is long. And varied. And let’s be honest, even though it’s what you might expect from a fancy joint like this, a bit of a wank (except for the brilliant famous quotes written on each page, none of which we can remember – a little help, anyone?). The cocktail descriptions left a little to be desired- we understand that you want to sound amazing and offer top shelf products, but please note, not everyone that enters your bar is an alcoholic and will know the names of obscure and exotic elixirs off the top of their heads. Most of the drinks listed tacitly invite patrons to point at an ingredient and say to a staff member “Excuse me, but what the frig is this when it’s at home?”.
Hopefully, though, considering the staff aesthetics here, the response would be “The answer is in my pants”. Approaching the bar, we were greeted by an extremely attractive dread-locked bar tender who seemed to have been picked off a deserted island for our cocktail pleasures. Seriously, it was a little distracting. Even Threaders admitted that he’d be willing to get a bit curious with him, which is saying something. Adonis-like looks aside, it seems that all staff in this venue are more than happy to help you and chat with you about your day and discuss which kind of drink might be the perfect cleanser. To be completely honest, we were a little surprised at the casual nature of the service. Don’t get us wrong, we like feeling like we’re welcomed in such a nice establishment – an establishment that serves a $10,000 ‘Martini On The Rock’, that comes with a real diamond and a hotel room, for serious – it’s just that the dreadlocks and how-ya-goin’ service was a little incongruous. So too for the ‘Toasties’ listed in the food section of the menu. Call us crazy, but when you’re spending over $20 for a “toastie” it’s not so casual. I’ll have a toastie and an 8-carat diamond, thanks. Y’know – since you’re fresh out of Chiko Rolls and sapphires.

BOOM-CHIKA-WOW-I-GUESS The venue is described as a New York- inspired bar exuding urban sophistication, but other than the blue light box in the bar, the decor to us seemed a little bland and, well, hotel-like. Possibly even airport-transit-lounge-esque, except at this height you’re a bit closer to the aeroplanes. The music, too, wasn’t what you’d expect – bassy dub followed by The Jackson Five. It’s eclecticism gone crazy, we tells ya! Other guests were generally your well-groomed suited set, or non-Contiki tourists on the marginally posher side of life. They didn’t really catch our attention until Butters said “What about the clientele? That chick just passed out!”, pointing to the table next to us. And indeed she had. One too many glasses of bubbles, perhaps, maybe vertigo. For the most part, though, Threaders described our co-drinkers as ‘the kind of people you’d see waiting to go into a David Lynch movie”. Threaders had just finished a massive White Russian at this point, though.

 THEM’S SOME LONG PIPES, MAMA The bathrooms are standard issue ritzy hotel. Red/brown marble, gold finishings, pot plants, thick hand towels. Nice. But yawn. Where’s our free perfume samples, bitches? Come on.

DRINKY DRINKY: LORIN Drink one: Well, I wasn’t asked what kind of Vodka I wanted in my drink. I don’t want to sound like a spoilt brat, but I take this shit seriously and if you’ve got four different vodkas lined up, I’d like to be asked which one I want. I may be short, but I have taste buds too... OK, maybe I’m taking this a little more personally than I should. Anyway, it was a good ratio of Vodka to dry, but it was a bit flat. The dry, not my enthusiasm. The garnish was lime, so tick there. For $11.50 for a spirit, it’s a bit expensive, but I had come prepared for such events.
This drink is actually four storeys tall. It just looks smaller because it's at the Shangri La.

Drink two: After perusing the menu I ordered myself a Cucumber Cooler consisting of Hendricks gin, apple liqueur, elderflower cordial, cucumber, granny smith apples, mint, a hint of lemon juice and a dash of soda. This description got me a little happy. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love a cucumber, it is my favourite of the fruits that you don’t automatically think of as a fruit. However, the happiness didn’t last as long as I was hoping, in the words of my esteemed colleague Threaders, “it tastes like a cucumber flavoured sports drink”. The menu description made me dream of amazing flavours, but instead I was rather bored.

Lorin generally shows boredom by smiling.

DRINKY DRINKY: JO My gin & tonic was served in a tall, voluminous glass with the perfect amount of ice and a lime garnish, so it certainly looked like value for money. I could barely taste the gin, though, and the whole thing left me more than a little on the meh side of life. Once again, Blu Bar excelled in giving the impression that you were about to experience something spectacular, and then under-delivering - a lot like Christina Aguilera’s career.

Anyone not drooling right now is fired.

When faced with the daunting task of choosing from the eight-thousand page cocktail menu, I took the easy way out and ordered my new stand-in boyfriend, a dirty gin martini. The bargirl chilled the glass well and asked for my gin preference (Tanqueray), so the resulting drink was cold and huge, with three robust olives and wonderful balance. It had the perfect amount of ‘dirty’, which is what I hope people say about me behind my back. The only problem with large martinis (and the very idea that there could be any problem at all with them is astounding) is that they don’t stay cold. Cold is the fourth most important ingredient of a martini.

Alright, stop. Collaborate and listen.

 Lastly, my favourite rant – if you’re going to serve me unpitted olives (which you totally and utterly should), give me somewhere to put the pits. They’ve been in my mouth. Don’t get me wrong – my mouth is awesome – but unless you want my (awesome) saliva on your furniture, I’m gonna need more than a coaster. Fucking good peanuts, though.

I'm not drunk, but I can totally see it from here.

DRINKY DRINKY: THEM We asked our truly amazingly stunningly attractive companions what they were drinking, and also to sum up their Blu Bar experience in a few words.
 Threaders was impressed that he was asked how much milk he wanted in his White Russian, and also with the final result. His bar summary: “Nice but not awesome – I do feel a little bum-raped”. We assume and hope that this was in reference to the prices.

More bear than man. In a good way.

Babs started with a Tiki Tac Toe (Rum, pineapple, vanilla, peach) and liked it, although when we tried it (reviewer's privilege, see) we felt it tasted like a welcome-to-Fiji fruit cocktail. He was singularly obsessed with the idea of being able to see the city from the toilet, though, so his disappointed summary? “No poo with a view”.

Play your cards right, and Babs' jeans could be weirdly blending in with your couch at home, ladies.

Butters had a… a drink. In a glass. With a garnish. Crap, Butters, what did you have?! Either way, she summarised “I can’t get past the girl who fell over”.

And we can't get past your awesome boots.

Billo tried a few cocktails, the first of which was an Aztec Conquest, with DON JULIO!! Tequila (we made a pact with friends recently that the words ‘DON JULIO!! must always be shouted with a Spanish accent), pomegranate liqueur, Tuaca (vanilla citrus liqueur), apple juice, lemon juice, agave syrup and rosemary. Phew. He was pleased that the rosemary sprig made him feel like he was doing his bit for the Diggers, but his assessment: “If it wasn’t for the company and the view, it’d be just another bar”.

Not pictured: the Anzac Day Parade.

Pepper, who only just claimed that nickname on the night, started with A Pear Of Sidecars, made with Grey Goose vodka, Remy Martin cognac, pear liqueur, lemon and sugar. She thought the lemon in the drink was a little overpowering, and that the bar gave a good first impression. Then she said something that she claimed might have been a little harsh, but I’m sure there are some very fine leagues club cocktail bars out there.

If you can find someone classier than this, we will give you five thousand dollars.

There is a massive elephant in the room, and fuck it, lets tackle it around the ankles. This bar is great, but you take away the view and there is not much left to admire. They do things well, but so do a lot of other bars in Sydney. For the amount of money that you spend, unless you get a table with the money shot, we think it’s probably better spent somewhere else. It was voted AHA bar of 2010 and that’s exactly what it is, a hotel bar.

We’re giving Blu Bar three big glass walls out of five. Only just.

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