Behind Sokyo Lounge, bar manager Abhishek "Abs" Shahi has his station precisely laid out. Shaker, spirits, wine and even matcha, chai and biscuits are at the ready. Each season, the cocktail menu at Sokyo's bar is tweaked and tinkered with, bringing in brand new seasonal concoctions and spins an old favourites that never overpower, but instead lend a hand to the Japanese dishes in the restaurants.
"For the last few seasons I've had the menu focus on a lot of Japanese-inspired flavours and techniques, but this year we've started to really focus on the creativity of all the bar staff combined," Shahi says. "Going forward, everyone on the team will have at least one of their idea make it into the menu. This way we can really collaborate to diversify our drinks."
The long, dimly lit bar stretches the length of the Sokyo Lounge, giving each bartender space to stretchout and put on a show for customers. Large couches and cosy, private nooks surround the bar. Everyone from office workers to regulars, tourists and diners are treated to pre-meal cocktails.
While the menu is lovingly and painstakingly crafted each season by Shahi and the team, the customers' tastes always come first. Fine Japanese whisky and Japanese beers sit alongside all the usual favourites. "Regulars return not just for the drinks but for the service our team offers. We work with people to find what drink will suit them. Whether it's a new cocktail or a classic, we make sure to start the customer's night right," Shahi says.
After 10 years of slinging drinks, Shahi has made the transition from pulling beers and pouring shots in night clubs to becoming the bar manager at Sokyo. Like any young drinker, the art of making and appreciating cocktails came as his tastes and skills developed. "The first few times I visited a dedicated cocktail bar I fell in love with the process. It wasn't about whipping out drinks as fast as possible. It was an experience with as much craft involved as a chef puts into a dish," Shahi recalls.
He has since brought this ethos into Sokyo and passed it onto his team. The cocktails are more than the drink itself; they're a show. Each one is carefully and skilfully made with a showman's fluorish, where sight and scent are equally important to the final flavour.
The BLD Martini is a perfect example. The usually strong-flavoured martini has been tweaked into something more accessible any time of the day (breakfast, lunch and dinner), culminating in a sweeter, lighter cocktail. It's topped with a sweet froth, sprinkled with chai powderand then charred with a blowtorch, filling the bar with a sweet, spiced aroma and finished off with a house-made biscuit. The Tokyo Sour is another example of bringing a lighter, Japanese twist to the classic New York Sour. A layer of shiraz is added to spiced rum to create a fresher and more complex flavour.
Whether you're popping into the Sokyo Lounge for after-work drinks or settling in before a meal at Sokyo, Shahi and the team tailor the experience to every customer, remembering names, favourite drinks and offering a recommendation or two based on your tastes and upcoming meal. Expect an experience above and beyond the average cocktail bar.
Photography by Trent van der Jagt.
Happy Hour is an extract from The Star, a magazine highlighting the thrilling experiences on offer to domestic and international guests, and our local communities, at our Sydney, Gold Coast and Brisbane properties.