I’ve been a regular at this space for a few years now, well over a decade.
Located above Garema Place in the city, before the current incarnation of hippo + co, it was just plain hippo, the Red Room, and before that a real institution, a San Francisco inspired, beat, literary cafe Dorettes, where once as a young undergrad I performed some really bad poetry and took a girl on my first proper date.
I’ve also hosted many an event here including a CD launch for Schmooze and much besides, so you can see I’ve a soft spot for the space.
It was recently revamped (mid 2013) into its current form and you can read about that opening via HerCanberra where I was lucky to be invited along.
The vibe is welcoming, casual, a nice balcony for the summer, and they care about the craft of mixing good drinks. The crowd they attract is mixed, bright young things and more mature souls seeking some quality healing waters.
Add some Johnny Cash and Blues as the the sound track and you’ve got a US roots inspired experience.
So this week they’ve debuted a summer menu and have been busy working hard on things are barrel aged Negroni’s and a cold drip system to make espresso martinis.
Keeping with the theme they’ve referenced recipes from the American canon in a short (about 17) bespoke cocktails, plus of course they can make anything else you fancy. There are several hundred whiskey’s and scotches – the best collection in town.
So you can find a New York Sour based on a recipe from Chicago in the 1870’s ($15), a Treacle from the Colony Room Club1980’s (so long ago ha ha!) and a cheekily titled Stop the Floats with Spiced Run (locals will get the gag) made from Salted Caramel Ice Cream, home made Sarsaparilla Syrup and Organic Cream Soda ($16).
I’m pretty confident you’ll be able to find a mix to suit you, there’s a wide range of flavours on offer and the drinks looked really pretty with some bar craft on display (anything involving a blowtorch has to be good). Their bespoke martini’s used a vodka base I noted, leaving the other flavours in the foreground.
Watching them make the cocktails for guests they did a nice job of keeping the bar tidy, pouring elegantly, putting a show on and chatting the while to the guest about the drink and back story.
They also are very keen to emphasise freshness on the menu, juices are made to order.
So what did I drink? Well I stayed true to form and had two very nicely crafted Martini’s, the fully flavoured American Gin Aviation and always elegant Martin Millers, both $18, and both made as per my instructions, no bar pretension here, they want the customer to be happy.
They use Dolin as the house Vermouth, but have Noilly Prat available too.
One thing I wasn’t crazy about was the level of the volume of the music. May have been where I was sitting, but I noticed plenty of people leaning in to ask ‘sorry what did you say?”. In the past I’ve asked nicely for them to turn it down a bit and they’ve happily obliged.
Finally a point for discussion. There is a real trend now for martinis to be served in the saucer shaped glass rather than the triangular shape.
To be frank I’m not crazy about the former, it doesn’t feel quite right and I know there is a science behind beverage glass design. One chap told me it was more traditional and being a 60ml mix is the right proportion for the glass… but I’m not persuaded.
What do you think?