THE CHAIR­MAN

Woolworths TASTE - - Top Sa Bars -

DUR­BAN

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.

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