Cocktails aren't just a drink at Mea Culpa, an established Ponsonby Road favourite, they're an art form. A New York style 'hole in the wall' venue, the intimate narrow bar ,with rustic interior and an eclectic music selection to boot, have made it a popular with locals for years now.
It's the kind of place where barman and owner, Tim, knows most by name and will happily stop for a chat while whipping up some spectacular creation. In his words, "Anyone is welcome here, as long as they are wearing some kind of footwear". But don't be fooled by the laid back welcoming; this is not your average local. Here, cocktails are king and creativity, presentation and quality produce reign supreme.
So dedicated to the quest for the ultimate cocktail is Tim that he hand presses all of the fruit ingredients - lemons, pomegranate and oranges to name a few, for hours each day. Everything is made from scratch and everything is organic. They are passionate about supporting local suppliers and buy small batch made product; nothing mass produced. And if it's not a cocktail you're after, they have a quality wine list and a lovely selection of boutique beers.
When asked what makes the perfect cocktail, Tim believes it's simple: "The perfect cocktail is balanced, the garnish needs to be there for a reason and it has to have great colour. People taste with their eyes".
All this talk of cocktails was making me thirsty, so we inquired about the most popular cocktail and he says more often than not, customers ask 'surprise me' - so we did just that. And we weren't disappointed. We were treated to a truly refreshing combination for a hot sunny afternoon, with the sun streaming in the bar and groovy tunes washing away the stresses of the day. A tall and refreshing Hibiscus tea infused vodka, watermelon and Campari combination, and a Stolen Rum, blueberry, lemon, basil and cracked pepper highball. It was attractive, with a beautiful pink colour, and tasted great. Salty and sweet, it had the perfect acidity to get the balance right. He was spot on.
And with creative and enticing names like 'Our man in Trinidad', you'll want to keep coming back for more.
Having bartender for the past eight or nine years, Tim loves to experiment with alcohol; and were treated to a few unexpected samples like bacon infused whisky that he's been making at home. They're always on top of the latest trends here too and have recently playing with food-orientated cocktails and applying kitchen techniques like dehydrating liquid and adding edible flowers for something to surprise and delight.
And the best bit (aside from the delicious cocktails)? If you work up an appetite there are a delicious array of cheese boards with blue or brie from $15 on offer and you can even order a tasty Japanese dish from Renkon next door to eat at the bar.
A true neighbourhood gem and one you'd be crazy to miss.