To truly take in the many incredible perspectives available to us in Sydney it’s necessary to scout around The Rocks, Walsh Bay, and similar areas to find the various vantage points that are unique to this city. Blu Bar on 36 springs to mind when thinking about these vantage points, a long-standing bar 36 floors high up in the sky on top of the luxe Shangri-La Hotel. The premium cocktail bar has recently seen a few changes, driven by mixologist Art Palomata who has switched up the menu to put some new creations alongside the bar’s signatures, making full use of what he refers to as “liquid physics” to add a little bit of theatre to the already spectacular atmosphere that’s elevated by that priceless panoramic view.
Dry ice, foam, smoke, fire, ice and liquid nitrogen are some of the techniques Palomata has harnessed to refresh Blu Bar on 36, resulting in essential cocktails like the Smoking Mistress, a smouldering blend of Bourbon, peach liquor, and Montenegro with walnut bitters and smoked tea. The mix is stirred on ice and then smoked in a jar before being presented in a sturdy glass. It’s clear that balance is the main focus here, and the result is a very subtle, complex mix of nutty, smokey flavours that first bring in some lovely floral and fruity notes, then giving way to spice and earthy walnut flavours on the back palate.
On my visit, the Forgotten Innocence ($21) was a special creation available to accompany the currently running Balvenie Telescope that’s popped up at the bar for a limited time (it may still be on the menu, but you should hurry!). The cocktail is a mix of Balvenie 12 y.o., grape pisco, and a house-made syrup created by blending nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and honey, served in a decanter and then poured into a glass over a small tea strainer which contains dry ice. It’s like you’re on the set of Hocus Pocus when the cocktail starts to bubble, pop, and steam, with the strainer concentrating the steam into thin shoots that spurt out of the glass. It’s thick and nutty, with cinnamon and nutmeg being the most salient notes to complement the Whisky. You can tell that a lot has gone into thinking up these cocktails, and don’t be surprised if the group sitting next to you taps you to ask what you just ordered.
Also on the menu is the Solero ($23), a sweet cocktail inspired by ice cream, created with Vodka, vanilla liqueur, and your choice of either raspberry or passionfruit. It’s creamy (of course) and light on the palate with a taste of fresh fruit consistent all the way down, split by the solid hit of Vodka. Then you have the Coco-Jello Loco ($21), made with 42 Below Vodka, watermelon, melon liqueur, coconut syrup, and mango juice; Rosemary Old Fashioned ($28) with Mitchers rye, cherry herring, Nocello, and rhubarb bitters; and, one of our favourites, the Aurora ($23), which is Bombay Gin, apricot liqueur, mix berry syrup, pineapple juice, and lemon juice, finished with a rhubarb and berry espuma foam.
There are plenty of these gems on the menu, begging for repeat visits, which no one should mind obliging with the panoramic views of Sydney Harbour, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House, and more; an all-encompassing perspective through floor-to-ceiling windows which fill the bar’s two rooms with natural light. Needless to say, you’ll want to stick around for sunset.
A food menu is also available with both substantial and small plates, and there’s a nice selection of craft beers and wines should one ever tire of cocktails (unlikely here), but its hard to say any one thing stands out over the other at Blu Bar; the view, service, menu, and atmosphere are all kept to a high standard here, balancing an exclusive feel with a more casual vibe (there is a dress code – just don’t dress like you’re going to the beach).
With Palomata and his team refining the cocktail menu, Blu Bar on 36 has never been more vital to Sydney’s bar scene, and not just for tourists or hotel guests either. Next time you’re in the area – and you’ve got on some decent shoes – make sure to head on up to the 36th floor of the Shangri-La Hotel for a relaxed cocktail session that’s going to be hard to beat. It may be a bit pricey – there’s even a $10,000 cocktail for those who have the bank (it’s a “Diamond Martini” that also comes with it’s own room and must be ordered 24 hours in advance) – but with a view like that, there’s not really anything to complain about.
Blu Bar on 36
Address: 36, Shangri-La Hotel, 176 Cumberland St, Sydney
Contact: (02) 9250 6000
Monday to Thursday, 5pm-12am
Friday and Saturday, 4pm-1am