Do you think that those '00s party-goers knew what they were missing? Bars without laneways! Starting your weekend without that spotting-a-bouncer-and-tell-tale-cluster-of-smokers rush of satisfaction? Sounds like heathen talk these days. The new stop on your city bar hop, Papa Gede's, boasts an entrance more Baxter than the Baxter Inn's and the mandatory backstory of a converted garage, but it does not take long to realise this one is a curveball.
A voodoo-inspired, jungle-walled cocktail bar that can tempt you from any dinner plans with popcorn and burger rings and change your mind about absinthe, Papa Gede's is owned, designed and run by three old-hat hospos who live, love and work together: husband-and-wife team Lara Dignam (ex-Red Lantern) and Michael Dhinse (ex-Grandma's), along with their friend and housemate Joshua Ng (ex- Wild Rover).
The cocktail list is a four-page mix-up of classics and signatures all priced at $16 — minus a $19 Zombie that promises to resurrect the dead — and reads on the fruity side. Main cocktail man Ng delivers The End Game Boss with a dry laugh about how no one knows exactly what it means, but a shake up of Martell VS, Havana Club (Aged 3 Years), lemon and Cointreau with a shiraz float speaks for itself. Yes, it's a shiraz-ed Between the Sheets for those playings at home, but that is no reason to dismiss a well-balanced delight for the drier palate.
For something a little sweeter, try the Gambling Priest (incidentally also my new nom de plume), which brings together gin, Montenegro amaro, honey and salt to surprise the senses. On the fresh side is Panda All Night, which matches green apples with absinthe and adds a good lick of gin to — wait, since when do we need to validate gin? Overall, Dhinse and Ng have curated a varied list that puts flavour before sugar and is full of surprises.
"What I really like about it is that absinthe has this really terrible reputation ... [We are] giving people the opportunity to do it in a new fashion," says Dignam — a delight that was visible on her face as she bought over a glass of the Swiss Duplais accompanied by an absinthe tap and a perched-in-position sugar cube. Absinthe is not my favourite spirit, but the ritual part was fun, and with an impressive list, including the Australian Moulin Rooz, all priced at $14 for their opening, it's worth trying something new.
In the fridge, it is a local affair, with 4 Pines kolsch and pale ale settling in with the Apple Thief cider, and a wine list that is heavy on the Aussie.
It is pretence free, run by good friends (with some serious credentials) and dedicated to all things fun embodied in history's greatest party animal, Papa Gede. Oh, who also happens to be death, the first person to die, a fan of cheap cigars, apples, and top hats. Hold up, is this a voodoo version of Bill Murray? "The more we read about him, the more we realised he needed bar dedicated to him," says Dignam.
Entry to Papa Gede's is from the rear of 348 Kent Street via the laneway.