It wasn’t long ago that cocktails were a mere footnote to soft drinks on Joburg menus. Asking for anything more complicated than a gin and tonic at a bar would invoke bewilderment. Fast-forward to 2017, and complex cocktails made with obscure craft labels and embellished with all manner of garnishes are everywhere. To experience the true art of cocktails, here are some of the city’s best bars to seek out:
4pm at Mesh
This sexy cocktail lounge, housed in a private members’ club with contemporary artworks on display, has a meticulously constructed menu inspired by historical references. A new cocktail makes its debut each month, using a classic recipe as a base with an added twist.
What to drink: One of our favourites is the Corpse Reviver, a gin-based cocktail first named in 1889: equal parts Cointreau, Caperitif (a classy South African fortified wine), Absinthe and orange zest for flavour.
EB Social Kitchen and Bar
At this smart-casual bar and restaurant inside a bookstore, each cocktail is inspired by a classic novel and the brass-and-tile bar comes with books scattered across it for your reading pleasure.
What to drink: There are two ways to choose – select your favourite spirits or your favourite author. New creations continue to be added to the menu, but the long and summery The Secret Garden (Tanqueray Ten, rose, chamomile and lemon) remains a staple.
Bolton Road Collection
Part of Rosebank’s smart Park Corner development, the menu offers a build-your-own gin and tonic option. Choose from local or international craft gins, served with a choice of craft tonic and garnish. Try unusual creations such as the Smoky Bear (tequila, rum, pineapple, hickory smoke, peach and pine tea).
What to drink: Among the most memorable drinks is the zesty signature collection’s Negroni, made with vermouth, Campari and Caperitif.
Lenin’s Vodka Bar
With more than 40 different vodka brands, this classy little Soviet-themed bar in Maboneng has probably the best vodka selection this side of Russia. Each week, particular brands are selected for the freezer, ensuring a perfectly prepared choice of vodka shots for the purists.
What to drink: On the house cocktail list we particularly like the Vlad (crème de cassis with some Stoli Razberi) and the Caipiroska (vodka, fresh limes, sour mix and Sprite).
Six Cocktail Bar
A studenty Melville institution that’s been around for years, serving literally dozens of cocktail options. On the menu are playful choices such as Snoop Dogg (gin, a touch of kiwi and tonic or “juice”) and the mysterious Voodoo Vodka.
What to drink: The bestseller is the potent Excitabull (vodka, berries, Red Bull and a hint of Stroh).
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*This feature appears in the latest issue of Johannesburg In Your Pocket City Guide. Visit johannesburg.inyourpocket.com