Alchemy conjures up magic and mysterious mixes – it’s an apt name for a bar renowned for its cocktails. The focus of Alchemy at Ballito’s trendy Lifestyle Centre is craft booze, several varieties of which they produce in-house at their distillery. The bar offers a tantalising array of gin, rum, beer, cider and wine served in a variety of guises from cocktails to shots and every which way in between, including integrated into desserts.
The cocktails strike a balance between inventive and old-style, with a Negroni sitting on the menu next to a Princess Chelsey – an original mix of rum, strawberry liqueur and grenadine named after a special staff member. The gin and tonic mixes are heaven on a hot North Coast afternoon and an interesting angle is the offer of a tasting board where you get to sample a few craft gins without ending up completely sozzled. The adjacent wine bar, called The Other Room, boasts an excellent, carefully curated cellar.
The interiors are contemporary, with a marble-topped bar and industrial edge.
2. THE LIGHTHOUSE BAR – THE OYSTER BOX HOTEL
You don’t get much more luxe than the iconic Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga and the upstairs Lighthouse Bar effortlessly combines sumptuous interior design with superior drinks and standout service to make it top of the list for a celebratory toast (or 10.) Take a seat in a cosy conversation nook of sofas or slip into a booth overlooking the sea for a view that’s good, day or night.
The cocktails are divine with careful attention to detail characterising every drink and using the best booze available. The signature cocktail is the Umhlanga Schling, which stars ingredients KwaZulu-Natal is famous for - cane sugar and cane spirit – and a Lighthouse Heaven pays homage to the lighthouse that dominates the view and is inspired the bold red accents in the décor.
3. LUCKY SHAKER
The team behind Lucky Shaker know their booze and understand their patrons – a winning combination that has seen a loyal following develop behind the Umhlanga cocktail bar and has led to a second branch opening at the Zimbali Wedge in Ballito. The aim is to make a night out an intimate, exciting experience with a range of carefully thought-out cocktails served in interesting ways (think neon plastic glasses and punch bowls).
The cocktails are rated on a scale from “fruity” to “bold”, taking in “refreshing” and “dry”, so making a choice is a snap. Because they are changed seasonally, there’s always something new to sample. If you find yourself the designated driver, the house soda is a delicious blend of blackcurrant, fresh ginger, grapefruit, lemon and a hint of tea - it’s equally good combined with gin, rum or tequila.
The surroundings are contemporary and cool, with a tropical bent and a humorous pineapple motif.