Usually, when someone returns from a trip to Africa, they just come back with a new outlook on life, pictures of cute/terrifying animals and maybe a different hairstyle. Well, unless you're Dean and Jeanelle Mariani — then, you come back with a desire to open a bar about it. Inspired by the couple's travels through East Africa, Polepole is a sweet homage to the country's eastern coastline in the form of a slick city cocktail bar one level above Little Collins Street (with some killer bar snacks, to boot).
It's important to establish that Polepole isn’t a themed bar — simply a bar with flecks of African influence scattered about. You'll find it in the drinks, on the menu (biltong features, and it's really quite good) and the Lion King-esque Tree of Life painted onto one wall. If you're looking for novelty, you won't find it here.
The cocktail list does feature a few culturally-relevant concoctions, with drinks like the Dr. Livingstone — Tromba tequila, Heering Cherry liqueur, red vermouth and blood orange — and the Mzungu Martini: their take on the espresso martini, with spiced rum to really kick things off. Apart from that, they keep it simple with beers imported from Kenya, Ethiopia and Mauritius ($8-10) and a less exotic, but quality nonetheless, selection of Australian wines.
At cocktail bar, the snacks usually come as an afterthought. But Polepole's bar food is almost worth a visit in itself. Among the most memorable, the eggplant chips — crisply coated, skin on, in something similar to panko crumbs and gooey on the inside ($12) — and the sweet-and-nutty pork, almond and cinnamon cigars ($14 for three). Then, you have the ribs; four different types (chicken, beef, pork and lamb), all sticky, dark and rich. No cutlery needed. Only napkins.
If being in an East African bar means that we have license to eat with our hands while sipping an espresso martini, we're happy to oblige with custom. Although, maybe that's just Polepole.