Finding High Jinks can be a bit of an adventure.
You almost need to be a local to unearth this cocktail bar, so it is fitting that owner Noriel has set out to create a space that feels like everyone’s local.
Let the person who got lost en route twice (and asked for directions three times) provide some simple directions because High Jinks is worth the effort.
Park near the distinctive Nishi building in the New Acton Precinct. Opposite Nishi lies the pavilion – a courtyard lush with greenery, benches set among raised plant-beds and trees. Cross through the pavilion to Morning Glory, and to its right is an elevator. Press the button, then once inside the elevator, descend to the Basement and in seconds you are stepping into High Jinks.
Those familiar with this part of the city might twig that High Jinks operates out of the space that was once Black Market.
Owner Noriel Calub welcomes people into the recently refurbished space where low-hanging tiffany light fixtures throw soft light over the bar. The simple décor cleverly opens up the narrow space. High Jinks feels comfortable, light-hearted and inviting, just like Noriel. He radiates calm and chats easily with his patrons.
Noriel has been part of Canberra’s evolving bar scene for five years, managing both Highball Express and Molly in that time.
He says, “I’ve loved seeing Canberra’s bar scene really pop over the past few years. But I felt that Canberra has missed a cocktail bar that people could call their own, one that’s fun, social and down-to-earth. Somewhere you can have a ‘silly goose time’, as I like to call it”.
“This is my first ownership. High Jinks has a neighbourhood vibe. Between the three hotels, numerous corporate tenanting, and at least four apartment complexes, there’s a whole community here. People are looking for someplace where you don’t have to commit to having a full dinner service; where you have the option to just hang out, having a quiet drink.”
The menu features several signature cocktails, fresh and seasonal with fun names and eclectic ingredients. Noriel lists several of his favourite classic cocktails on the menu as well, but he is also happy to whip up a request. Beer and wine drinkers are taken care of, and the snack menu is simple yet tasty.
“I hope you love the music,” Noriel grins. “I actually get more compliments on the music than I do on the food, the drinks and the service! It’s rock, fun stuff, not too commercial, something you can sit there and enjoy as you chat.”
He explains the backstory to one of the most popular cocktails on the menu: “Cruising down the street in my … Fiat.”
“I was watching Straight Outta Compton and thinking about when I travelled to Italy. Remembering what people were riding around in. ‘Cruising down the street in my Vespa’ didn’t have a ring to it. ‘Cruising down the street in my Lamborghini/Ferrari’ was a bit pretentious. So, I imagined some tall guy driving around in a little Fiat, all squashed in.”
“The ‘Mind your P’s and Q’s’ cocktail is popular. That common pairing of mint and peas was my inspiration. I infuse green peas with gin. It tastes one part green peas, one part gin. Savoury and dry balanced with citrus and sweetness. Every season I draw on what’s available, that’s important.”
Then Noriel makes me THE signature cocktail. The Double Jinks.
“This has gin, elderflower liqueur, blueberry shrub (a shrub is a fruity-acidic concentrated syrup) made from blueberries, apple cider vinegar and sugar, a touch of saline and apple soda.”
The Double Jinks is bright and refreshing, the elderflower flavour crisp and earthy against the sweet blueberry notes. It is a cocktail that makes you mull over what went into it so you can try to make it at home.
Plates of snacks arrive.
The karaage chicken sliders are oversized pieces of Japanese popcorn chicken in a soft slider bun with fresh slices of cucumber, mellow coleslaw and topped with spiced fruit chutney. The satisfying snap as you bite into the chicken’s crust is so very moreish!
The toasted corn on spiced cream and parmesan cheese is reminiscent of Mexican street corn. The zingy spiced cream is the perfect foil for the char and sweetness of the corn.
Bite through the golden crunch of the Serrano ham and cheese croquettes and find the oozing cheese and ham inside.
Noriel said: “High Jinks is more than a bar to me. It’s my passion. The crafting of cocktails, the nod to local winemakers and distillers, and, of course, delivering the best experience to each person every time. It’s not rocket science – it’s hospitality!”
High Jinks is located at 2/15 Edinburgh Ave, Acton (underneath Morning Glory).
It is open from 5:00 pm to 1:00 am Tuesday to Thursday; 4:00 pm to Friday and Saturday.
Keep an eye out for High Jinks events, including cocktail workshops, tasting events and spirit take-overs, where Noriel teams up with booze brands to deliver a fun experience. Go to their website and their Facebook page for updates.