Once upon a time, the relaunch of a hotel bar wouldn’t have rated a mention in Brisbane. But hotels in this town aren’t what they used to be (see The Fantauzzo, The Calile, W Brisbane) and neither are their boozers (Fiume, Lobby Bar et al). That perhaps applies to no other hotel group more than Ovolo.

The Hong Kong-based company rarely does things by halves. That included last week when it relaunched the bar attached to its Za Za Ta restaurant at Ovolo the Valley as Kazba, a much moodier venue that has gone all in on a Tel Aviv-inspired drinks menu.

“Covid-19 gave us a chance to reset and look at the flow of the entire venue,” Ovolo’s director of food and beverage operations for Australia Jared Thibault says. “It perhaps should’ve been two separate venues from day one.

“Since we switched the restaurant to a vegetarian menu, we’ve wanted to market the bar as more standalone and as a cocktail destination. We wanted it to be a little more fun, a little more playful. The ambience is different. It’s a little darker, the music’s a little louder.”

From a cursory glance, it would be easy to think there hasn’t been much change, but the rethink shows in the details. Step into the bar now and you’ll notice the lighting has been redesigned, and any free flat surface seems to be populated by candles. The Library area of the venue has been restyled and the DJ booth moved to the very front by the door, setting the tone that this is very much a bar.

“[Ovolo group creative food and beverage director] Vince [Lombino] has been to Tel Aviv and he talks about how the whole bar scene there is built around not just drinks, but music,” Thibault says. “So we’ve added vinyl DJs to the venue.”

Music curator Andrew Lewis has brought his experience as QT Hotels’ music director (that whole lark of different tunes playing in the QT Sydney elevators depending on how many people are in there? Lewis had a hand in that) to bear on Kazba’s selection of music, angling it towards Afrobeat, funk, soul and disco.

Still, it’s on an expanded drinks list where you’ll find the most change. Thibault and bar supervisor Shawn Brown have taken the more fantastical elements of the Za Za Ta bar menu and leaned right into them. There’s the Forbidden Fruit, which mixes Sipsmith London dry gin with rosemary lillet blanc, suze and blood-orange bitters, and is finished with a rosemary smoke bubble; an Amardeen Sour shaken with dried apricot bourbon, fresh lemon, housemade Middle Eastern-style amaro, honey and peychaud bitters; and a Turkish Coffee Martini that’s mixed with house-spiced rum, caramelised yoghurt, Turkish coffee, cardamom and chocolate bitters.

There are also shared cocktails such as The Sun Also Rises, with Pampero Blanco white rum mixed with Fair kumquat liqueur, clarified grapefruit juice, citric acid and hopped grapefruit bitters. And the Rock the Kazba Disco Punch, which serves four people a mix of Pampero Anejo rum, Hennessy VS, Massenez apricot liqueur, Veuve Yellow Label champagne and lemon verbena tea, and is garnished with mint, dehydrated lemons and edible pearls.

Before you ask, yes Za Za Ta’s smoked persimmon Negroni is still present and correct. And there’s also a neat Fizzy Bubbly menu, which combines Tel Aviv’s century-old obsession with soda with Australian’s similar fondness for flavoured cordial.

For food, Za Za Ta’s executive chef Roy Ner has written a menu of vegetarian mezzes that includes fried sesame falafel with tahini and amba pickles, chilli haloumi savoury doughnuts, and spiced Beyond Meat koftas served with truffled pecorino.

“We’re trying to not take ourselves too seriously,” Thibault says. “The Za Za Ta bar maybe had a slightly more serious edge. We want to be a little more playful, a little more fun, a little more theatrical. It’s about creating a fun environment.”

Kazba
100 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley
(07) 3253 6999

Hours:
Wed to Thu 5pm–12am
Fri & Sat 5pm–2am

ovolohotels.com/ovolo/thevalley/eat/kazba/