Sarah Mitchell, co-owner of Teresa Cocktail Bar likens her partner Andrea Marseglia to Yoda, the legendary Star Wars Jedi master.
“Andrea’s got this amazing ‘seventh sense’,” explains Mitchell. “He intuitively knows what flavours will work together, regardless of how outlandish they seem. You listen to one of Andrea’s ideas and immediately think, ‘no way’. Then he makes it exactly as described and it tastes incredible.”
Both are award-winning bartenders who met while working at Melbourne’s Boilermaker House in 2016, and co-founded the Napier-based speakeasy in late 2021. The Kiwi-Italian couple named it after Marseglia’s late nonna who first inspired Marseglia’s love of foraging.
Known for its art deco architecture and top-notch food and wine, Napier is the primary seaside town of New Zealand’s popular Hawke’s Bay region, which is getting back on its feet following Cyclone Gabrielle in February.
A burgeoning scene of passionate, independent liqueur enthusiasts has emerged in the area over the last couple of years, and the Teresa team’s innovation is widely acclaimed.
When they opened their bar, the couple’s first step was to convert an empty clothing shop into an Italian deli (which sells sandwiches by day but will be moving to Auckland after July). Currently, it's the deli that leads through a secret door to a low-lit cocktail bar just big enough for 25 people.
The dark space feels a little otherworldly when Broadsheet visits. Designed by Mitchell, the room is narrow and flanked by a sleek onyx marble bar on one side, with black walls hung with inky-hued, octagonal paintings on the other.
Marseglia is working on a new drinks menu to showcase the region’s winter produce – mallow root, persimmon, kawakawa, dandelion roots, limequats and passionfruit marigold.
The limited-season range will reflect the couple’s commitment to using local, organic produce and adhering to zero-waste practices. It’ll also complement Teresa’s four permanent classic cocktails – which might have familiar names but are anything but conventional.
For example, the signature Teresa Negroni is made with fennel pollen gin, propolis vermouth, Rinomato and Bruto Americano (the latter two are both bitter botanical aperitifs). It’s garnished with a cube of truffle hokey-pokey.
Head-barman-in-training, Josh Loman, uses a helium pump to put the finishing touches (a 20-centimetre tower of bubbles) on a cocktail known as a Boccioni’s Punch.
It’s the same rum cocktail that earned his team presentation and technique commendations and took out the highly contested Plantation Rum Cup last September – made from pineapple rum, yuzu vinegar and dressed in a coffee, shiitake cloud.
Next, he’ll play a game where he invites a guest to flip a coin to determine their drink’s garnish. Then, he gets cracking on an order for Teresa’s Untitled cocktail, a white vermouth drink featuring coffee grinds and a saffron and roasted cauliflower vinegar, considered by Mitchell and Marseglia “too bizarre to name”.
Ask for a classic gin and tonic and the team will happily make you one. But ultimately, says Marseglia, they want to challenge people’s ideas of what a cocktail and cocktail bar should be.
Just this week, Marseglia began fermenting 60 kilograms of locally grown persimmons. “We’ll ferment the fruit with kefir grain, which acts like lactic acid, to create a cordial that tastes like a lime brioche,” he explains.
“We’ll dehydrate a batch of day-old croissant, which we’ll combine with the persimmon cordial, curdled milk, coconut butter and bourbon whiskey to create our take on an old-school cocktail called milk punch. It’s an eggnog-type drink, loved by the likes of Winston Churchill, which is perfect for these cold winter nights.”
Mitchell and Marseglia have had to be resilient over the last couple of years. “It was hard finding a suitable venue during Covid and pretty challenging to keep everything going after the cyclone,” explains Mitchell. “The cyclone knocked out our power for six days and wiped out all our produce. We thought we’d lose everything. But here we are. Our doors are open and we’re welcoming people back into the bar again.”
The couple’s goal is to keep making drinks that push boundaries and to keep collaborating with local growers and like-minded industry types. In May, Marseglia represented Teresa Cocktail Bar at Visa Wellington on a Plate. Collaborating with the team at Kelburn restaurant Graze, he designed a cocktail-matched degustation that won the festival’s ultimate prize for most innovative event.
Marseglia says he’s chuffed with the win. “All over the globe, the bar world is finally catching up with the culinary world, even in small towns like Napier. We’re proud to be part of that.”
Teresa Cocktail Bar
132 Emerson Street, Napier
Tues to Thurs 5pm–late
Fri & Sat 4pm–late
This article was edited on June 20 to include that Harvest Deli will be closing in July and moving to Auckland. Teresa will remain in the Napier site.