Do you know what Centennial Park tastes like? We’re talking first thing in the morning, not when you stumble and face plant in the dark after a gig/footy game. Turns out it’s a combination of jasmine, nasturtium, bottlebrush, kikuya grass and fusilia flowers. And how do we know that? At Charlie Parker’s, the cocktail bar underneath Merivale's chic country restaurant Fred’s, they send their bartenders out to the park to collect those same botanicals, which they then distil into a vodka used in their Centennial Park cocktail.
They’re very proud of their rotary vacuum distillation machinery at this subterranean bar. They use it to strip the colour and a lot of the flavour out of whisky so that they can mix the muted version with powdered stone, a little moss infusion and some red wood bark to make a drink that tastes like a bushwalk after heavy rain. At this point, you might be wondering if you can get a drink without the poetry, and you can, but we like their enthusiasm for new ideas, even if they get a bit lost in the romance of it all.
Unlike the bright, elegant restaurant above it, Charlie Parker’s is a snug, dark warren of comfy nooks for wooing, with a big imposing bar to sit at if you like some bartender chat with your drinks. You’ve got more fingers than they’ve got wines by the glass, but that’s because this crew loves spirits – there’s tasting notes for everything on the back bar, which might not arouse much interest in a London dry gin drinker, but is quite handy for whisky lovers.
There’s also an open kitchen downstairs pumping out Euro-style bar snacks like chicken liver mousse, salt beef croquettes with mustard and pickles, and cheese boards – but if you want a leg of lamb, you’re simply on the wrong floor.
The nice thing about having pots of money is that it lets you do almost anything you like, which is why Merivale have been able to take over three adjoining venues along Oxford Street and open a high-end pub, a jazzy chicken shop, a refined European restaurant and a basement bar. The latter is a classy little hideout, but the exposed pipes and beams in the ceiling and the roller door at one end stop it feeling too big for its boots. It’s somewhat incongruous with the gentle elegance of Danielle Alvarez’s restaurant upstairs, but if you’re not ready for the night to end, or can’t afford the whole shebang in the dining room, Charlie Parker’s is a very comfortable port that heralds a new nighttime era for Paddington.