From the outside, Bar Kiss seems like a tantalisingly oddball proposition: ‘Bar Kiss: Cocktail – Tattoo’, promises the sign. And why not? A cocktail bar and a tattoo parlour sharing space in the address formerly occupied by Qinghua Art Bar. Alas, it’s drink, not ink, flowing here. The tattoo bit comes from the fact one of the bar’s co-owners runs a tattoo studio in Jingan called Kiss Tattoo.
The bar is still unconventional, however, albeit in a kind of less exciting, more dispiriting way. The decor is gothy, with purple felt couches, chandeliers, lots of black, and the kind of menacing imagery on the walls you’d expect to find in a dive-y metal bar or on the torso of a Mexican drug-runner.That’s fine, but the bar itself is heavily embellished with Bacardi insignia. In fact, we were told construction was paid for by Bacardi; they’re the sponsors. As part of the deal, they’ll pay yearly sponsorship fees, have a stake in the menu and an ad on the window. The bartenders will need to keep shifting a set quota of Bacardi, too, to keep the deal alive. Kiss is not the only bar doing this. Papaya 2, on Fumin Lu, is caked in point-of-sale marketing with similar ends. Why does it matter? Simply, because we don’t want to be marketed to when we’re having a drink.
Still, perhaps it’s not so bad if it allows young bartenders to get their starts, as is the case here. Bar Kiss is a joint opening of two pedigreed Shanghai bartenders, both former understudies of Papaya’s Kyo-san. One is former PuLi Hotel beverage manager and runner-up in this year’s China World Class Final Perry Zhou, and the other is Chris Xi.
Their bartending is strong and, to be fair, they were pushing bourbon, not Bacardi. An old fashioned (60RMB, with Evan Williams) is impressively rendered. A so-so, off-balance Manhattan (90RMB) sees small-batch Noah’s Mill Kentucky bourbon overpower the vermouth but still offer lots of depth. Kind of like the bar itself: the ingredients are there, but it’s not quite right.
By Alexander Barlow