At 5pm on Monday, Supernormal opened Bar Paradox, its moody, subterranean pop-up – here for two weeks only. Fifteen minutes later, the space was packed and there was a queue to get in. Naturally.
We walk through the heaving Flinders Lane restaurant and take the blood-red spiral staircase into the basement, where the walls are plastered with black-and-white Bar Paradox posters. Through the door there’s an intimate 40-person space awash in neon red, with a mix of bar seats, standing tables and plush couches. High-energy tunes ricochet around the room, curated by Noise in My Head.
It’s undergone one hell of a transformation, now almost unrecognisable from the private dining room that was there before. The walls have been darkened from the usual white, the bar was installed in record time and all the new furniture was brought in on opening day.
“It’s an intimate and edgy space that feels different to what is happening at street level,” prolific restaurateur Andrew McConnell tells Broadsheet. “How the bar feels is just as, if not more, important – fun, social, warm and worldly.”
And while food is generally the star at the Asian-inspired diner – and McConnell’s other Trader House venues, including Gimlet, Marion, Cumulus Inc and Cutler & Co – here it’s very much the cocktails. The fun snack menu was designed to complement the drinks, rather than the other way around.
McConnell collaborated with Orlando Marzo, 2018 World Class Bartender of the Year, to bring Bar Paradox to life. Earlier this year, Marzo launched Drinks by Loro, a range of experimental bottled cocktails designed to rival the shaken-to-order stuff you find at Melbourne’s top bars.
“It's a great opportunity to put into context what Loro as a bottled cocktail [brand] can be,” says Marzo. “What we do is dedicate ourselves to using really good flavours at any cost. We take the cocktails to the next level. They are not necessarily classics – let’s just say that we explore what cocktails can be rather than what they have been.”
The Paradox Bramble is the pop-up’s signature: a citrusy and aromatic blend of Tanqueray blackcurrant gin, makrut lime and a hint of strawberry gum over crushed ice. The rest of Loro’s core drinks are also being poured at the bar including the Coffee Cocktail, a riff on the Espresso Martini, with tonka-bean vodka, St Ali cold brew, vanilla and orange liqueur; a smooth Bergamot Negroni that’s been elevated with floral notes; and a crisp Olive Martini made with cold-vacuum-distilled extra-virgin olive oil in place of brine.
They’re paired with Asian-style snacks that are exclusive to the pop-up, but will feel familiar if you’ve dined upstairs. Perhaps most impressive is the menchi katsu roll, a deep-fried pork mince cutlet (slathered with Japanese Bull-Dog sauce) sandwiched inside a pillowy bun. It’s so tall you’ll need to squish it down to take a bite.
The crispy fried prawn wontons come served with sweet gochujang glaze; the raw fish selection of sea bream, tuna and kingfish sit atop a bed of preserved citrus and yuzu kosho; and you can build your own “baolini” (like a blini but with bao dough) with caviar, crème fraîche and fried chicken skin.
“Orlando is one of the best bartenders in the country,” McConnell says. “Coming in to experience his cocktails along with some snacks to whet the appetite or round out the night after a comedy show is exactly what I would love to do.”
|Bar Paradox is open to walk-ins only – with one exception. Only Broadsheet Access members can book a seat, with five cocktails personally prepared by Marzo and paired snacks during a special private tasting on Good Friday. It’s the only way you can nab a guaranteed spot, but they’re very limited. Secure your seat online.|
Bar Paradox runs from Monday April 11 to Sunday April 24 at Supernormal. It’s open from 5pm till late every night except Monday April 18.