Stephen Zappelli spoke to The Shout’s sister title Bars & Clubs about the W Hotel Melbourne’s Curious Bar NOLO offering, house-made infusions and the rise of the NOLO cocktail.

Curious Bar’s Venue Manager, Zappelli, is quite clear in his message to bars thinking about taking the leap into serving up no-and-low (NOLO) drinks.

“When it comes to a non-alcoholic section, don’t hesitate to go all out,” Zappelli says.

“Think about non-alcoholic drinks as you would think about the alcoholic section, because it will sell, and you will make money from it – and that’s why we’re in the business.”

Stephen speaks from experience. While working at Flinders Lane’s Curious, he has witnessed first-hand the success of bar’s non-alcoholic offering.

“It’s becoming dramatically more important – in this area of the city, we’ve got a lot of people coming from offices, or where they might be working nights – and they need something with either lower ABV or no ABV at all.

“To have that option is very important,” Zappelli comments.

At Curious, the team has gone with a combination of non-alcoholic versions of classic cocktails, and new creations produced especially for this menu.

“We’ve got a variation on a Charlie Chaplin and an Old Fashioned,” Zappelli says.

For the Charlie Chaplin, a cocktail traditionally made with sloe gin, Curious uses a syrup of sloe berries, while for the twist on the Old Fashioned, named ‘Top Banana’, a non-alcoholic whisky from Lyre’s is flavoured with banana. Stephen says that Lyre’s and local producer Brunswick Aces are both featured on the menu.

“Then we’ve got our ‘Go Green’. We’ve made our own non-alcoholic gin which we’ve infused with different botanicals – it’s quite powerful. We’ve clarified it, and then used snow-pea syrup, and verjuice to bring some acidity,” Stephen explains.

The result is a strikingly verdant cocktail, given the tag-line ‘peas, love and harmony’ by the bar.

‘Go Green’

Another inventive offering is the ‘Hop, Skip and Jump’, which uses a non-alcohol beer to create a cocktail flavoured with watermelon and basil, with a citrus foam added to recreate the head of a beer.

Zappelli has had a decade long career in hospitality, that has taken him everywhere from regional Victoria, to England, where he served as the head bartender at the Alchemist for two years.

“Then I went down to Mornington Peninsula to work for Ten Minutes by Tractor as bar manager at both their fine dining restaurants that they had at the time.”

“The opportunity came up at W to work in a heavily involved cocktail brand, and specifically the cocktail bar – and that was super exciting.”

Ultimately, Zappelli sees the non-alcoholic menu as an extension of the bar’s hospitality to all consumers.

“The venue is naturally a cocktail bar, but people should never feel excluded in that way, and feel like they have to have something alcoholic.”

“The movement of these non-alcoholic drinks is very impressive, and it’s great to see how much it’s catching up,” Zappelli concludes.

It appears to be a productive and creative time for cocktail bars at W Hotels, following last month’s visit and take-over of the Brisbane bar by Giacomo Giannotti, the owner of Barcelona’s Paradiso.

Curious Bar is located at 408 Flinders Ln, Melbourne VIC, and is open from 5pm to 12am Tuesdays and Wednesdays, to 1am on Thursdays, and from 3pm to 1am on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

This story originally ran in Bars and Clubs, The Shout’s sister publication.
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