Looking at its subtly marked doorway with a tiny plaque bolted just inside the entrance, you might mistake Panacea for just another office on O’Connell Street. But head up the stairs and you’ll see a bigger sign on the plain black door that opens into a sophisticated, dimly lit cocktail lounge.
There are high leaners down one side and low tables down the other between rattan sofas with comfortable, deep blue cushions. Slatted, round lampshades and mounted wall sconces cast the perfect amount of warm, textured light.
Panacea is a long-held dream for English-born Dany Dentith, who has long wanted to open a bar based purely on service.
There’s no actual bar at Panacea; no barperson agitating stainless steel shakers, no noise of blenders and no traditional counter to order your drink from. This is on purpose. Cocktails are batch-prepared fresh every day so Dentith, his partner Sheena Thomas and bar manager Theo Tjandra can just pour drinks when required and spend the rest of their time talking to guests.
Even the interior is geared towards piquing visitors’ curiosity, including conversation starters like the wallpaper made from prints of the very first cocktail book ever written. The roof tiles are faux, printed onto the cardboard boxes everything came in when they were building Panacea.
“Batch made” doesn’t really convey the creativity and effort that goes into Panacea’s drinks. Formally Known As is made with bee pollen-infused Starward Two-Fold double-grain whisky, chamomile aperitif, quince reduction and clarified pear juice. The juice alone is a process, with fresh pears that have been soaked in water, put in a juicer then combined with an enzyme for clarification and, finally, finely strained.
Many of Panacea's cocktails involve clarification, which involves removing any chewy bits or particles to leave a clean, distilled and flavourful liquid. The Toasted Colada takes the essence of a Pina Colada and serves it as a cloudy (but not creamy) and refreshing drink with toasted Armagnac, Rhum Mahina Coco liqueur, pineapple and clarified rice milk.
And there are mini cocktails to start you off – a Baby Americano, One Shot Martini and French Press, for when you can’t choose but love the idea of a tiny palate-cleanser to let you relax while you read through the options.
To eat, there are platters from Auckland deli favourite Cazador, and there’s also a cheeky sausage roll option. It’s bougied up, of course, with garlic marinara sauce, wild fennel, pickled juniper and a pickled aioli. It's all the tiny touches that make Panacea a place to put on your list to visit.
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