Woundingly expensive bottles of rare hooch. A bandolier of cocktail bitters. Spirits infused with Vegemite and unicorn tears. All are non-negotiables for modern-day cocktail joints. All are things you won’t find at this new Northbridge house of fun, complete with four-tier outdoor deck for maximum Vitamin D generation. Yet despite their absence – or perhaps because of it – Mechanics Institute is a key voice in Perth’s cocktail conversation, not least because the bar serves some of the cheapest drinks in town.
Take, for instance, Hillbilly Bob's Ruckus Juice, a twist on the shandy featuring spiced rum, fresh lime, spiced syrup, beer and ginger beer, all for just $14. Just as big on value is the New York Sour ($12). Granted, you’ve probably seen the rye whiskey and lemon routine before, but it’s the float of red wine that makes this a drink you’ll want to have and to hold, especially when you learn it probably won’t be available tomorrow. Such is life at a cocktail bar that changes its drinks list daily.
While sticking to the low-booze, aperitif-style drinks is best for the bank balance, the lure of the top shelf gear is hard to resist – certainly when it comes to the East Village Athletic, a tequila and Grand Marnier remix of the Last Word. It might cost a fiver more than the entry-level potions, but $17 is a darn sight cheaper than flying to New York and drinking at cult speakeasy PDT where the drink originated.
As well as being versed in the arts of drink-making and chat, the champion team are just as helpful when it comes to navigating the wine and beer choices. Discussing rosé sweetness levels mightn’t be part of the traditional mechanics' institute syllabus, but I suspect working-class Perth isn’t complaining. Nor are there many gripes about being able to order an XL one-size-defeats-all Flipside Burger at the bar. Make mine a Red Hot – that’s a beef burger ramped up with chilli, salad and mayo. These mechanics are engineering good times.