Saturday, October 3, 2009

Asian-themed bars win big at 2009 Australian Bar Awards

Melbourne bar Golden Monkey this week took out the coveted Best Bar Award in the Australian bar industry's biggest annual awards night. Bartender Magazine's Bar of the Year Awards this year remind us of the vibrancy of Melbourne's bar scene.

Also picking up two awards (Cocktail Bar of the Year and Best Bar Food) was Sweatshop and its attached restaurant Seamstress, also in Melbourne's CBD.

The obvious similarity between these two big winners is that both draw heavily upon Asian influences in decor, food and drinks. In the last few years, Melbourne has seen the emergence of a number of Asian-themed bars. As well as the two aforementioned winners, Melbourne also features the uber-posh Silk Road, Chinese-themed bars like Double Happiness, New Gold Mountain, Cho Gao, Element Lounge and Chi Lounge, the Japanese-themed Robot, and even an Asian-themed gay bar called Opium Den, and more.

Themed bars are not necessarily everyone's cup of tea - I'm sure some people just want a bar, full stop - but its hard to dispute the impeccable sense of style on display at these venues. Golden Monkey (pictured below), which in its 4 years of operation has won Best Bar twice and Best New Bar in its first year, is inspired by 1920s Shanghai stylee - paper lanterns, cheongsam-clad waitresses, lots of red and gold. I should state that I'm a bit biased towards Golden Monkey because it's owned by a mate of mine, but I wouldn't hang out there as much as I do if it wasn't first class. The Asian theme extends to top-notch Chinese and Japanese bar snacks, and cocktails featuring such ingredients as lemon grass, lychee, Calpis Soda.

Why the popularity of the Asian-themed bar? Although the sheer class of the venues is a selling point on its own, perhaps it represents an increasing appreciation for Asian concepts of design, in the same way that more and more people are adding Japanese elements to their gardens. While the bars are popular with the Asian-Australian crowd, there are plenty of non-Asians frequenting them as well - so perhaps it means that Asians are cool now?

But it also represents the ingenuity and creativity of Melbourne's young Asian entrepreneurs. Unsurprisingly Asian-Australians have long been leaders in the restaurant business, but this widespread success in bar ownership, where trendy cutting-edge cool is all-important, is a relatively new phenomenon. I think it says something about where we are at as a community that Asian-Australians are now at the hip forefront of an industry for which Melbourne is well renowned.

Golden Monkey: 389 Lonsdale Street (enter Hardware Lane), Melbourne, 9602 2055.
Seamstress/Sweatshop: 113 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, 9663 6363 (pictured below)

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