A bad cocktail is like a saccharine-sweet slap on the palate and a hard kick in the wallet. Not good by anyone’s standard. Very bad in fact. But a fine cocktail can take you to heaven with a sip; a sensory avalanche of deliciousness, wonder and pleasure, that gets you on faster than two shakes of cayenne pepper in your undies.
Basically, cocktails are about stimulation!
So, you’re in Durban, you’re wearing the atmosphere like a wet mink and you’re in need of fresh, sublime refreshment with a strong alcohol kicker. Head down to the Point, the skinny built-up peninsula that protects the harbour from the ravages of the Indian Ocean. This was once a less salubrious neighbourhood full of vice; a playground for sailors on shore leave, drug dealers, miscreants, pimps and prostitutes. Alas, there was also a downside.
In the past few decades, the Point has seesawed between crumminess and respectability. Today the Point Waterfront Precinct (as it’s called in gaudy city brochures) still doesn’t look like much, but it’s well secured by a grid of CCTV cameras and security guards in service of a growing tide of international investments and developments, which means it’s actually a lot safer than the average Durban suburb. While other businesses may struggle to get a foothold, there is one establishment that has thrived. The Chairman. And you, mopping your brow swaddled in that Durban mink … you need a drink.
The Chairman is plush, the way you wish your home was. Beautiful furniture, vintage and antique; thoughtful décor; Persian rugs; African objets d’art. Classy. Uptown. Nestled between a derelict building (the old Seaman’s Institute) on the one side and a pile of rubble with a façade on the other. The Chairman is basically a longstanding metaphor for Durban’s sense of optimism. A vision of what could be if we, as a city, ever got our act together. And yes, they do damn fine cocktails.
Ask the immaculately turned out tenderpreneur and the gaggle of dandies to make a little space at the bar and step up. Ask Mandla Gumede, The Chairman’s resident mixologist, (basically a professional bartender who specialises in cocktails) for a recommendation. If he doesn’t make you something based on your desires, off the cuff, you can order off the menu. Mandla’s been in the game for 17 years and knows his way around a cocktail
“The Chairman is a longstanding metaphor for Durban’s sense of optimism. A vision of what could be if we, as a city, ever got our act together”
shaker, muddler and jigger – not to mention that he has an appreciation of flavour profiles, alcohol bases, ingredients and garnish.
We kicked off with The Chairman’s special, a drink known as Surrender
Your Booty (I did not, alas; perhaps I needed another). The drink: generous dashes of Bombay Gin, Martini Bianco and Cointreau with strong ginger, pineapple and lemongrass. Like a tropical twist on a martini.
Strong muti. Not a bad way to start.
Next up, I smashed a Juicy Fruit. A simple concoction of Belvedere vodka, lime and soda water on a bed of fresh granadilla pulp. Delicious and fresh and packs a punch. I drank it in about three big sips. Glorious exuberance. That mink is now discarded, lying in a wet puddle on the floor, and you’re ready to shimmy and rumble!
I topped the first round with a drink called a Chuck Berry’s Mojo. Grapefruit and lime juice with lots of Ciroc vodka on ice and finished with fresh layered strawberries. Sharp, sweet and strong, with some chewy bits. Like a fruit salad for Charles Bukowski.
Because Durban is a cosmopolitan place with a large population of teetotallers, The Chairman naturally offers a selection of what they call mocktails – you guessed it, alcohol-free cocktails. I selected the Ginger Magic, because it was at the top of the list and I was rolling pretty fast and loose after the first three drinks. Cranberry juice with fresh limes and ginger and topped up with tonic water to give it a grownup flavour. It was surprisingly delicious and quite refreshing. I know because I drank it. The basic problem with a mocktail in Durban is that you invariably drink it too fast, I mean it’s hot, you’re thirsty and what’s holding you back?
Thankfully, on that thought, the Uber came to save us.
– Andy Davis 146 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Point, Durban; thechairmanlive.com
This spread, clockwise from above: Cigars are a popular theme at The Chairman, this is one of their vestibules; a line of perches at the main bar; the Juicy Fruit cocktail being poured properly; mixologist Mandla Gumede’s toolsand liquid inspiration; Mandla Gumede; the Surrender Your Booty cocktail.