You enter Bar Economico with a purpose. On this particular Saturday night, the Richmond bar is eerily empty. The ceiling fans swirl above. You walk over to the bartender cleaning glasses behind the wire cage. You feel like you’re playing a game, and it’s a bit strange. You go with it.
“We’re looking for the Bar Exuberante?”
The bartender nods. “Right this way.”
He leads you to the back of Economico, and through a cramped manager’s office. There’s a pornographic orgy playing out on a small screen on the cluttered desk. A sliding door is opened.
Inside is Exuberante, and it’s full of people (keep in mind, there are up to 16 seats in total). They look at you when you walk in, then go back to their conversations. You feel like you’ve just found floor 7½ in Being John Malkovich.
The idea, like Bax’s previous bars (including the world-famous and now-closed Der Raum, Bar Americano and Economico), is heavily conceptual. As he explains to us in a previous interview, “It’s a self-rated five-star bar. It’s a bar in the lobby of the hotel that used to be the best bar in town. They still think they’re relevant, but they just haven’t moved with the times.”
It’s part Grand Budapest Hotel, part 1960s cruise-ship bar. It’s windowless and, until you’ve started drinking, a little claustrophobic. The paintings on the wall allude vaguely to a colonial-era Caribbean scene.
You’re handed a room-number tag, a bag of cocktail nuts and a menu titled The Imperial Exuberante Palace Hotel, with the inside pages protected in plastic and littered with typos. There are drink suggestions for gentlemen and for ladies. If you're a woman with a male friend, try not not to be offended when you are handed a "ladies menu" (that's a regular menu, without prices).
Drinks are Der Raum expensive, but Der Raum exquisite. The hot cold Piña Colada is back (a brilliant concoction of warm, white-chocolate and coconut foam on top, and a cool, lavender-infused rum cocktail underneath), although this time served in a faux coconut Tiki mug. Like Economico, the list is mostly rum focused.
This is a high-concept bar taken to the next level. Some people are going to hate Exuberante. Some are going to really love it. It’ll be a novelty bar for some, for others, a temple for some of the most expertly detailed and crafted cocktails in the country. To properly pull this off, Bax will need to consider and commit to not only the cocktails, but every minute detail of the performance, or risk breaking the illusion entirely.
Der Raum isn’t coming back, as far as we can see. But we’ll keep following Matt Bax down the rabbit hole to see where it goes.
438 Church Street, Richmond (behind Bar Economico)
(03) 9428 0055
Tue to Thu 6pm–midnight
Fri & Sat 6pm–1am