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Hippo Co – a new look for an old favourite

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In 2001, I was working out of the Garema Court building in the middle of the city. Garema Place was a buzzing precinct, with Caffe Della Piazza the al fresco lunch spot of choice. Man, I miss that place.

When the sun went down, we would schlep out of our workspaces and climb the stairs to the Asian-influenced interiors of Hippo Bar, where the smell of incense, the crunch of free pretzels, and some mighty fine and lovingly prepared drinks awaited us.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-ASttq4lYPm8/U12kud3E-cI/AAAAAAAAB-g/_n2jM8Gl-WA/s144-c-o/IMG_5882.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/HippoCoJazzOnWednesdays#6007138596178688450″ caption=”Hippo Co” type=”image” alt=”IMG_5882.JPG” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” pe2_caption=”1″ ]

My cocktail de jour was always the aptly named Hippo Smash…so called, because it consisted of sparkling wine, vodka, peach schnapps, a sugar cube or two, and some sliced strawberries. The sight of girls (and some guys) stumbling out the door, slurring “but I’ve only had three drinkshhh” was not uncommon. That little baby packed a punch.

Some 12 years on, Hippo Bar has been reinvented, to emerge as Hippo Co – a vastly different beast in look and concept, but with quality drinks remaining the central focus. The fitout has emigrated from Asia to the American midwest, with the new interior boasting a definite ‘hunting lodge’ feel. Warm timbers, a whole pack of taxidermic critters, framed vintage prints and retro light fittings create a homey, welcoming feel. For a ‘brand new’ spot, it has a lived-in feel.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-OuYnC03e-XI/U12kubQIXrI/AAAAAAAAB-Y/kC1hQS6KkFI/s144-c-o/IMG_5884.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/HippoCoJazzOnWednesdays#6007138595478462130″ caption=”The interior has a ‘ski lodge’ feel.” type=”image” alt=”IMG_5884.JPG” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” pe2_caption=”1″ ]

It’s probably not to everyone’s tastes, but it’s fresh and different, and miles apart from the ‘metro’ look that many Canberra restaurants and bars are going for.

There’s so much to look at, but the undisputed attention grabber is the impressive collection of whiskies behind the bar…over 120 varieties. The trend towards whiskey bars that has swept Sydney and Melbourne has made its way to the capital, with owner Sasha Trpkovski confident that Canberrans will acquire a taste for the liquor and learn to appreciate its complexities.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-w3qdZdcSqEs/U12d7JO5jfI/AAAAAAAAB9Y/NUty1QRdLFc/s144-c-o/IMG_1438%252520-%252520Version%2525202.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/HippoCoJazzOnWednesdays#6007131117398363634″ caption=”About a bazillion whiskies” type=”image” alt=”IMG_1438 – Version 2.JPG” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” pe2_caption=”1″ ]

A brief look at the cocktail list confirmed that Hippo has lost none of its inventiveness with its change of moniker. While I didn’t see a Hippo Smash (just as well, really), I did try The Regent Martini (vanilla infused vodka, passionfruit puree, agave syrup, apple), and it was ahhhmaaaazing. If I didn’t have to drive, I could have happily settled in for the night.

The lovely Phillip Jones, founder of Schmooze and my former salsa partner, was my drinking companion for the evening and he sampled two Plymouth Gin Martinis (below) – one dry and one dirty. A martini connoisseur, he said that “both were very good and made with care, if a little smaller than usual.”

[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-wbeCdaPc4VE/U12kvxbOmGI/AAAAAAAAB-w/qew_xK4r6PQ/s144-c-o/IMG_5892.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/HippoCoJazzOnWednesdays#6007138618610456674″ caption=”Martini with a twist…” type=”image” alt=”IMG_5892.JPG” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” pe2_caption=”1″ ]

The staff were very positive and engaged, and clearly eager to share the new ‘Hippo Co’ with their customers. With “12 amazing years” behind them, the Hippo Co team look set for many more.

In the words of Mr. Jones, “I like what they’ve done with the place…”

the essentials

What: Hippo Bar
When: Reopens to the public at 5pm, Saturday 10 August
Where: 17 Garema Place, Civic
Web: www.hippobar.com.au

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