With its smartly dressed staff and gilded interior, Michael and Zara Madrusan’s cocktail bar, The Everleigh, has always evoked a sense of old-timey glamour. While the drinks are meticulously prepared using up-to-date methods, the bar is a homage to the golden age of cocktails (around 1860 to 1920) – the period that gave us the Martini, Old Fashioned and numerous other classics.
Many of the world’s great hotel bars were also founded during this era, such as the American Bar at the Savoy in London and Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris. So when historic hotel brand the Ritz-Carlton set its sights on Melbourne, the Madrusans (who also own Heartbreaker and Bar Margaux) were a natural choice to set up Cameo, the level 80 cocktail bar adjoining flagship restaurant Atria.
“The team, from day one, was very impressive to work with,” Zara tells Broadsheet. “Ritz-Carlton is a brand we’ve admired for a long time and we jumped at the chance of being involved.”
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The 30-seat space was originally set aside for a private dining room. By the time the Madrusans came on board, it was to find a central boardroom-style table, rather than a regular bar. They took it in their stride, designing a portable, tabletop stainless steel unit they’re calling the “Everleigh Station”. It’s surrounded by chairs, creating an intimate, chef’s table-like experience, but for cocktails. Despite the unorthodox setup, this is a destination bar, as good as any other in town.
“Level 80 has an absolutely insane view across the whole city, but from day one the hotel was very clear they wanted the view to be secondary, and the hospitality to come first,” Zara says.
While at Atria the Madrusans’ cocktail menu focuses on native ingredients – a previously unexplored area for them – the hotel wanted something even more special for next door. The eventual answer was antique cocktails, a concept The Everleigh debuted in 2017 after scouring auction sites and working with specialist brokers to procure genuine golden era spirits, liqueurs and other ingredients.
At Cameo there are seven antique cocktails to try. The oldest is currently a 1917 Sidecar, using Calvet Grande champagne cognac made in 1917. The 1930 Old Fashioned uses Hiram Walker’s fine bourbon made in 1930. And the 1931 Manhattan uses Barclay Gold rye made in, yes, 1931.
“Prohibition hadn’t even ended, so you’re drinking a rye made during Prohibition. So we’re talking about illegal rye. There’s such a story, there’s so much romance,” Michael says.
“I love the time-travel aspect of antique products, because when I’m taking a sip of that Manhattan, I’m thinking about Prohibition. I’m thinking about speakeasies and raids and all of the things happening in the world and to society back then.”
Spirits this old go for up to $3000 a bottle – something naturally reflected in Cameo’s prices, which are as high as $350 a drink. Besides beer and wine, more affordable cocktails ($35 to $60) appear in the secondary “Fine & Rare” list, which still use premium spirits, rather than those typically found in a bar’s speed rail. Try the Quill, a Negroni variant that includes a dash of absinthe. This version uses Tanqueray No. 10 and Hotel Starlino rosso vermouth.
But if you truly want to taste a bit of history, the headline antique cocktails are also available in half serves. Be aware, though: the menu will change regularly as bottles run out.
“The spirits, when they run out, they’re gone,” Michael says. “So there’s a story, not only in the origin of the spirits themselves, but a story in the fact that, ‘Get in and get it now, because it could be gone soon’.”