I get a familiar feeling when ordering a cocktail at a bar devoted to them. Scanning a lengthy drinks list, indecision sets in, and I freeze as the bartender waits for my choice. Promise Bar solves that issue.
“[We didn’t want] a confusing cocktail menu,” owner Vaughan Marks says. “A lot of the time people order something or panic order last minute and [don’t] end up with what they wanted anyway.”
The bar, tucked behind Promise Cafe in Prahran, channels the prohibition era, with a speakeasy vibe and hidden entrance. Located between an underwear store and bike shop just a few doors down from Onesixone on High Street, the only sign this place exists from the street is a neon-blue arrow on one side of the awning. Enter through the cafe and you’ll reach a glass door, above which sits a “Staff Only” sign.
Inside, there’s no cocktail menu. Instead you’ll be handed a so-called Promise Card with options: light or dark spirit, or both; sweet, sour, bitter or savoury; type of base, such as tequila or whisky. You can also specify ingredients you don’t want in your drink. The bartender then “knocks up a custom cocktail” based on your card preferences, says Marks.
That might be a salted-caramel Espresso Martini – its rim dusted with walnuts and reduced caramel – or a concoction of Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin, thyme, juniper berries, bitter cherry and anise myrtle, mixed in a beaker then chilled with liquid nitrogen. It’s poured into a champagne flute and topped with ice and sparkling, garnished with a grapefruit twist and thyme.
Bar manager Jono Thompson and head bartender Omar Mourchad make as many ingredients on-site as possible, including ground powders, dehydrated fruits, syrups, freshly squeezed juices, cooked-down wines and vermouth. Food is limited to five toasties, though plans for a larger offering are on the cards.
The vibe is one of dark romance, with skull motifs among leadlight windows and dark wood tables lit up by candlelight.
Marks owns the bar with artist and illustrator Daniel Hernandez, whose work is skeleton-themed. One of his works – a woman embracing a skeleton, laser-cut into a rusted sign and backlit with an LED light– hangs at the back of the bar
“I’ve [also] collected skulls for about 10 years,” Marks says. “I’m trying to minimise my collection at home now that I’ve got a daughter that picks them up and throws them around the house and breaks them.”
173 High Street, Prahran
Sun to Wed 4.30pm–11pm
Thu to Sat 4.30pm–late
This article was updated on August 9, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.