This new neighbourhood bar brings bright and bold cocktails to Ponsonby.
July 31, 2019
It's hard to overlook the neon pink signage on Ponsonby Road where new bar Clipper stands. At the helm of this new venture (in the former home of Mea Culpa) are award-winning bartenders Barney Toy, James Millar, along with Bacardi Global Advocacy Director Jacob Briars and Richard Wood behind the menu.
In a period where dimly-lit speakeasy bars have taken over Auckland, Clipper sets out to do something different. It's airy and light, with blush pink paint throughout and adorned with old-school spirit advertising and touches of greenery — it's as if it was pulled straight out of a Wes Anderson movie. Pulling inspiration from the golden age of travel, the bar's namesake derives from the luxurious Clipper planes used by Pan Am during a time of elegance in flying in the 1920s and 30s.
The Pan Am cocktail by bartender Barney Toy, took second place at the Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail competition, and inspired the beginnings of Clipper. Made up of Bacardi Carta Blanca, Aperol, Orgeat almond syrup, lemon juice, egg white and Angostura Bitters, it's an easy drinking and effortless marriage of sweetness and bitterness.
Whatever your preference in drink is it's thoughtfully set out in the menu. From vermouth to wine and fruit cordials to syrups made in house, the unique cocktails are divided into three sections. The Long Haul features four thirst-quenching cocktails with lower alcohol that are designed for the beginning of a night or to keep you going for a long journey. Here, the Autumn Spritz with Hennessey VS Cognac, house made apple vermouth and soda is not to be missed. Busting all myths about Cognac being a traditional, sipping spirit, it is light, fruit-forward and refreshing.
The menu continues with Short Haul drinks, which are rich and bold, designed for taking it slow or for a final stop for the night. Drinks like the Pina Colada Old-Fashioned — with no cream in sight — and Strawberry Highball introduce new, exciting flavours to well-loved drinks.
The final chapter to the cocktail section is the Layover, with new takes on classic cocktails. Don't leave Clipper without ordering the Flat White Martini. Elevating a Kiwi favourite, the team split milk to create a whey syrup which binds perfectly with the Belvedere vodka, coffee liquor and espresso. The classic cocktail receives a much-needed do-over, resulting in a frothy and creamy cocktail.
You're welcome at Clipper even if you want to skip the cocktail fuss. "We want to be a neighbourhood bar where everyone can drink what they want. We're not going to treat anyone differently because someone's drinking a cocktail and someone else wants a beer," says Toy. The wines are on a rotating selection, with one hero red, white, rosé, prosecco and Champagne — depending on the season comes different flavours and varieties. A number of craft beers sit in the fridge, but the Mile High Session Lager on tap is where you should direct your thirst.
The bar proves that there's no need for a full kitchen to dish up perfectly paired small food selections. From nutty hummus and moreish vegetable ratatouille served with thick grain bread, the menu is delicious from start to finish. The unmissable Mac and Two Cheese, with Parmagiano-Reggiano, truffle oil and shallots fly out the door, so make sure to get in early.
Though the space is compact, seating a mere 22 inside, there's an emphasis on speed and service. Batched cocktails mean the bartenders are prepared for any number of orders that come through, creating unique libations in a heartbeat. During the busy end of week, there's three staff — most often James, Barney and Jacob themselves — to ensure no one is left thirsty.
This is an intimate neighbourhood bar experience at its best, staying unpretentious yet stirring. The Clipper team has set to create a true drinking experience in Ponsonby that it's been missing and is a welcome addition to the lively scene in this beloved suburb. This is just the beginning for Clipper—with plans to evolve the menu as the team continues to learn and seasons change, expect nothing short of extraordinary at your new local favourite.