Over the last couple of years, plenty of hyped-up hangouts have popped up in the CBD primed for thirsty folk to while away an hour or two through their doors. So when The Smoking Panda, a fabulously named East-meets-West cocktail bar above the Coronation Hotel on Park Street opened theirs in late October, the question was — what makes these guys stand out from the crowd? In a nutshell, The Panda's open until 5am.
"This place was kind of built around the licence," jokes manager Geoff Owens (London's W Hotel), explaining that when the hardiest of suits have finished their bevvies, in come the hospo crowd eager to make other people make their drinks. And apparently so far so good. The décor's not as fine-tuned as some of its competition, but one look at the place with its neon pink lighting and originally created Malboro sign; the Chinese restaurant chairs and huge polished back bar sporting one of the largest spirit collections in the country, and you can definitely see yourself enjoying a couple of post-work refreshments no matter your profession. And if the talent behind the bar can maintain their impressive speed at making said refreshments you'll probably end up having more than a couple.
We began with the Panda Negroni ($18), served over a giant and completely transparent ice block with cinnamon-spiced Campari and aged tequila instead of gin. Thankfully, it all came together nicely and made for a nice contrast to the Blackberry and Sage Smash ($17) of bourbon, housemade spiced blackberry syrup, fresh blackberries, sage, lemon and sugar over crushed ice. Any Brits out there might take one sip of this and think Rowntree Fruit Pastilles popsicles, which FYI, means definitely on the sweet side but great for summer.
We also ploughed into a Panda Colada ($17) and the Smoked Whiskey Sour ($18). The former is served in a giant tiki head complete with bowling pin handle and a toasted coconut foam floating atop the not-too-sickly usual concoction including housemade Coco Lopez. The latter combines cherry soaked bourbon with sweet and sour and fresh citrus, smoked in a bell jar. The Panda Colada is totally stupid-looking, of course, but undoubtedly fun, while the smoking of the sour is just a little bit cool if you're new to cocktail theatrics.
Getting your munch on isn't forgotten either with a menu of American and Chinese inspired bites, designed by acclaimed chef Danny Russo, broken up into snacks, dim sum and dessert. We pretty much tried everything (expect to get your hands dirty and phone screens greasy) and some of the standouts include the sweet and sour crispy pork ribs ($16), steamed XO soft shell crab sliders ($7 each) and nicely meaty san choy bau ($5 each). Dessert is also definitely present, with a range of dessert cocktails to complement. The pumpkin and maple custard ($9) is creamy, smooth and nicely gingery, and if you wanna go the whole hog, grab yourself a deep fried ice cream, coconut and rum afogato ($17).
All in all, while we can certainly see this venue establishing itself as a late night stopover for Sydney's professional servers and shakers, with its decent selection of poisons (and pretty damn attractive bartenders too), there's no reason anyone can't spend quality time with The Panda.