The Smoking Panda – you know, the tiny city bar tucked above Hotel Coronation on Park Street – has just launched a new drinks menu and Old Fashioneds are the show-stealing star.
A visit to The Smoking Panda is an education in this classic cocktail made from muddling sugar with water and mixing it with alcohol, with 228 variations on offer. 228!!
Presented in its own leather-like pouch, the new Old Fashioned menu at The Smoking Panda deserves a literary award, with its bitters and spirit-matching so extensive and well-researched. The 228 Old Fashioneds are made up of your more traditional bourbon, rye, scotch and whiskey-based concoctions; plus rum and tequila mixes; and then things get real crazy with gin and vodka inventions.
It goes without saying that to pull off such a cocktail-making feat, you need a sizable larder. The six-metre wooden bar delivers, stocking a wall-full of top-shelf spirits and Australia’s largest collection of bitters – it’s a small liquor store back there.
What a pandamonium
The Smoking Panda sprung onto the scene three-ish years ago, and its cocktail-making prowess has made it a favourite of the Town Hall work crowd.
This low-lit space sports a confusing get-up that marries “LA hip” with “the charm of a retro Chinese eatery”. There’s kitsch gold and red chairs, a fish tank filled with Nemos and jellyfish, and a neon-lit Malboro sign, which matches the dull smell of smoke harboured in the faded purple carpets.
228 shades of Old Fashioned
To be perfectly honest, Old Fashioned is not a language I’m fluent in. No surprises, given we all know I never stray far from the wine list. My husband, on the other hand, speaks Old Fashioned in his sleep, it’s his go-to cocktail and he’d shower in it if that wasn’t completely weird. So bringing him here meant Christmas is done and dusted this year. Best. Wife. Ever.
We tried a cross-section of the Old Fashioneds on offer and they all 110% delivered:
- Ketel One Citroen vodka, with Dillon’s Bitter Cranberry Bitters – designed to be a piss-take on a Cosmopolitan, the Old Fashioned guru in the crew tells me it’s incredibly refreshing and in his top five cocktails of ALL TIME.
- Bunnahabhain 12 scotch, with Scrappy’s Celery Bitters – this is one of the favourites of The Smoking Panda’s Bar Manager and Old Fashioned curator himself. It’s easy to see why, says OF guru.
- Four Pillars gin, with Bittered Sling Orange and Juniper Bitters – if I was going to drink the most Old Fashioned I ever have in my life it was going to be a local (Melbourne) spirit. It was crisp, smooth and energising – me like.
- Old Pulteney 12 scotch, with Napa Valley Bitters Damiana Chamomile Bitters – this one was a perfectly-paired romance with a hint of smoke.
This ain’t your average bar menu
If you’re getting hot under the collar from all that Old Fashioned drinking, rest assured there’s some seriously good American-Asian eats to balance out the alcohol. Hint: the sticky pork loin ribs are some of the best ribs in town, and an absolute crowd favourite.
There’s also food specials four out of the seven nights of the week. On a Wednesday you can get three sliders for $15, on a Thursday 10 devil wings for $10 and on a Friday seven pork ribs for $10.
But, my favourite deal is the $1 dumplings on a Tuesday. Shut up! Between 4–10pm you get a serve of three dim sum for $1 – you just need to buy a cocktail too. Looks like I’m getting sloshed next Tuesday in the name of $1 dumplings.
The Smoking Panda is…
Yes, Old Fashioneds now steal the show here, but there’s a little encore of other cocktails, beer, cider and wine (phew!) to keep everyone happy. Plus, it’s happy hour Tuesday to Friday from 4–6pm and Saturday 4–7pm, and there’s too many specials to list. You know what that means? Gather the work crew because this solid gold city bar just got better.
The Smoking Panda | 5–7 Park Street, Sydney, New South Wales
Phone: (02) 9264 4618