It was a warm Summer’s evening when this whole episode began. A little too warm and a little too Summer for my tastes. I’d received word on the wire from a fixer that I know. A friend. She’d tipped me off to a function at a cocktail bar & lounge that had opened recently on Crown St, Surry Hills. A group of us were invited. Wanted to know if I was interested. The joint was called Tokonoma.
Tokonoma had meant nothing to me at first. My fixer informs me that there was the promise of free food, and more importantly, free drinks. That was all I needed to hear. Like the seductive scent of an exotic femme fatale, suspecting that there would be trouble by the end, I was drawn in like a moth to a raging bonfire. How could a man, down on his luck, refuse such an offer.
I made my way into Tokonoma, a classy establishment with a classy clientele. A lot of curves to draw the eye. Media types, business people, even an olympic swimmer. The ambitious, the successful, the well to do. Those that have earned their wealth and those that have inherited it. Perhaps, even a few that wish to be perceived as any or all of the above. All would no doubt feel welcome. A place to relax, a place to share stories of conquests or, with the right company, a place to endeavour in a conquest or two of their own.
I felt immediately out of place. A fish out of water. Angus beef on a fast food franchise burger. I was none of these people. Didn’t help that I was on my own, the first of my party to arrive.
I make my way to the fashion boutique towards the rear of the establishment. A still life of a fashion runway. Sophisticated looking Caucasian women adorned in modern interpretations of traditional Asian clothing. Likely a statement. A metaphor for the establishment, as it billed itself to be a sophisticated cocktail bar serving modern Japanese food.
Surely. this would not be a permanent fixture of the bar? Sure enough, I was right. Like an ornamental garnish, it was merely for show. The mannequins and outfits were borrowed for the function from a guy that goes by the name of Akira. A fashion designer. Perhaps there was a statement within this too.
I chart a course to the bar, a literal island within a sea of people. An oasis for those that lap upon its shores. Bottles line the counter with a stoic patience, their meanings to be uncovered at the bottom of a glass.
The barman moves with practiced motion, mixin’ mojitos for the masses. Lychee mojitos to be precise. With practiced motion of my own, I casually take my leave from the bar with a glass in hand. A seat towards the rear beckons and I oblige its call.
An exotic beauty, the offspring of Cuban and Asian origins, the lychee mojito serves as pleasant company. A splash of bright colour on a palette of grey. A ray of sunshine breaking through a dreary cloud of existence. A welcome distraction until my companions arrive.
The fixer strolls in with Augustus & Aunt B in tow. Big wigs within the circles I keep. I introduce then to my drinking companion. Soon after, they acquaint themselves with drinking companions of their own.
Food starts to circulate around the restaurant bar. A carousel of canapes. A platter of sushi makes its entrance.
A nugget of chicken, tender, with a sweet soy sauce glaze soon follows, giving life to an appetite and the desire for more.
Tuna tartare on sweet potato chip. The fresh tuna marinated in an Asian dressing; a smooth, fragrant silk.
A monstrous piece of salt & pepper calamari makes its presence known. A claw rearing back, ready to lunge. An exercise in futility, as it’s swiftly shown its place within the food chain.
Bullions of sticky rice, grilled until golden, served with a sweet soy dipping sauce. Crispy, smokey, chewy. Delightful.
After a few rounds on the carousel, we take our leave. We make for the exit as another case calls. As we pass vacant booths, clouds close over the ray of sunshine. The splash of bright colour fades, blending in to the palette of grey. A familiar feeling of melancholy comes home to roost.
I look back on the cocktail bar & lounge, its colours now a figment of my imagination. There wasn’t the trouble that I’d suspected. There was no femme fatale. Just an exotic beauty, a high-priced geisha, that served as a pleasant distraction for a time.
Tokonoma Cocktail Bar & Lounge
490 Crown St, Surry Hills
(02) 9357 6100
open wednesday to sunday 5pm – midnight