Wuding Lu is taking off with a revival, as a slew of new bars and restaurants crowd the once quiet street. One of the latest additions is Barbarian, a drinking establishment by the same guys behind casual sandwich and beer shop Bites and Brews from around the corner.
Taking over the cottage previously housing short-lived Italian restaurant Salotto G, Barbarian is taking a back-to-basics approach, doing away with the cocktail menu and instead customizing a cocktail based on your unique flavor profile. It’s an unlikely decision—the drinks ultimately take longer and the concept causes slight confusion for unfamiliar and indecisive patrons, but ultimately, it allows for more choice and makes the experience more interactive. That, coupled with its laid-back lodge atmosphere—reclaimed wood, stone, iron and heavy furnishing—offers a respite from the fancy high-end bars cropping up around town.
Armed with a copy of Cocktails: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks, a notebook full of “experiments” and a wealth of experience, you are at the mercy of bartender Sasha Bondi. He's taken to infusing his own spirits and additives, pouring a revolving door of flavors like marshmallow-washed vodka, homemade hibiscus syrup, and jalapeno infused vodka. That said, each cocktail is crafted as you order and is only recreated at the request of the patron. With Bondi's infusions, though, it also depends if there's the same stock of infused spirits for you to have the same drink twice.
First, you choose your base of either gin, vodka, rum, whisky, or tequila. Then taste: bitter, sweet, sour, or spicy. Followed by fruity, citrus, herbal, refreshing, smooth, or spirit forward. Lastly, the bartender chooses the ingredients to compliment your requests: fresh fruit, infusions, syrups, and herbs.
The answer to “vodka, spicy, and refreshing” is a jalapeno-infused vodka layered with red hot chili pepper syrup, guava and pineapple juice, half a fresh jalapeno and cinnamon powder, garnished with a torched Asian pear and served in a simple low ball glass. The winner of the night.
The answer to “rum, herbal and refreshing” was a rum base with basil, a thin slice of jalapeno, coconut milk and bitters served in a hearty clay bowl which was nicely balanced. The miss for us was a fruity, tequila cocktail garnished with a banana, which resulted in something overly boozy and thick like chunky applesauce.
Cocktails start from RMB60 and can go up to RMB120 depending on the base spirit. The customization also draws out the wait times for cocktails, especially if the bar is rammed. It’s certainly not the place to come if you’re in the mood to just open a menu and point. It's overwhelming at first, but its quirkiness quickly grows on you. Before you know it, you’ll be throwing together flavors you never knew were possible and with the help of the bartender, enjoying some unique and delicious libations.
Our Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Address: 1019 Wuding Lu (near Jiaozhou Lu) 武定路1019号 (近胶州路)
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