Matthew Bax is back with a hidden cocktail bar that takes high-concept to a new level
Welcome to Matthew Bax’s imagination. It’s streaming live at his new venture, and it’s wild. We say “venture” because we’re not ready to call Bar Exuberante a bar. Think of it more as an art installation with drinks.
Bax runs the gamut of styles with his various establishments, with liquor and attention to detail the common denominators. Tiny Bar Americano has perfectly executed classic cocktails. Intentionally divey Bar Economico is a platform for rum, drawing on Bax’s travels through Latin America. And the famed Der Raum – the predecessor in the Richmond space from 2001 to 2012 – was a multi-sensory experience in experimental cocktails.
After a stint in Germany in 2012 exploring a seasonally driven, handcrafted drinking concept, Bax is now back in adventurous local territory. Bar Exuberante is tucked away at the back of Bar Economico; guest require an escort to find it. The new bar defies a simple explanation, although Bax says it’s inspired by quirky, sometimes-awful self-rated four- to five-star hotels. It’s like entering a small but meticulously staged set – guests are even given a branded hotel room key when seated. There are more surprises to come, but we’re not giving the whole game away.
It’s still all about the cocktails, mind. Latin American flavours seep through; there are “exotic and fruited” drinks for the ladies and “stiffy and complex” ones for gentlemen. Rum-based concoctions dominate: there’s a delicate white-rum Daiquiri as well as a Champagne cocktail with Benedictine, 23-year-old dark rum and a sugared rim.
The smooth Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie has the hallmarks of a traditional Zombie: it’s fruity, alcoholic and served in a Tiki mug. But here it’s elevated with a smooth rum blend and a side-serve of passionfruit pulp and caramelised dark sugar, allowing the sweetness to be administered to personal taste.
For the non-rum enthusiasts, there are classic Manhattans and Negronis. A Pisco Brandy Sour has the right balance of acidity and a delicate topping of frothy egg white.
It’s very easy to lose track of time in this tiny, dimly lit space. That isn’t a bad thing. If you’re prepared to go with the theatrics, dropping out here for a few hours is much cheaper than flying to the Americas. And the well-crafted drinks are worth the effort.