Gilt Lounge

Rachel Olding
Cash splash ... Gilt Lounge is a big night out.
Cash splash ... Gilt Lounge is a big night out. Photo: Steve Lunam

QT Hotel, 49 Market St Sydney, NSW 2000

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Opening hours Mon-Wed, 6pm-midnight; Thurs, 6pm-2am; Fri, 5pm-2am; Sat, 6pm-2am
Phone 02 8262 0000

The Mad Hatter has escaped Wonderland and set up a hotel in the middle of Sydney. In case you hadn't noticed the fishnet-clad creatures guarding an entrance next to the State Theatre with leather whips, a new boutique hotel has come to town. Occupying the former Gowings building, the QT Hotel is a strange place. Behind the beautiful building's exterior is a hidden world of wig-wearing staff members known as ''cast'' and ''directors of mayhem'', bizarre furniture, artworks in a dizzying spiral of colours, mirrored surfaces, odd touches and a New York-style bar and grill in the middle of it all.

Up two levels in the lift (which senses how many people are in it and plays appropriate songs: a lonely ballad for a loner, love songs for a twosome or, for our rowdy group, MC Hammer's U Can't Touch This) and a staircase is the Gilt Lounge cocktail bar.

It overlooks the spectacular Gowings Bar & Grill below and has a bit of a hotel lobby feel but is still a great destination on its own.

The couches, fluffy cushions and chaises pack colourful punch but the light is dimmed to a boudoir level and every other surface is an elegant, shiny black.

The first thing you notice is the service. Oodles of it. We're greeted at the entrance, greeted at the lift, greeted halfway between the lift and the staircase, greeted at either end of the staircase and finally taken to a bar table.

A host of burlesque-inspired wait staff then keep an eye on our every move throughout the night. It's lovely to be looked after so well but the staff wage bill must be eye-watering. Perhaps that's why the cocktails go up to $26 a pop.

The Gilt Lounge cocktail list, like the entire hotel, is an extravagant affair. Some of the creations are crazy.

They run the gamut of dark spirits, champagne cocktails, fruity concoctions and the downright bizarre. An Applewood Bacon Old Fashioned (applewood bacon-infused Buffalo Trace bourbon, black peppercorn-infused demerara sugar, creole bitters, flamed orange, with a slab of chocolate-covered bacon, $19) was probably the most out-there listing but it was not actually the best. In reality, it was deathly strong and bordering on bland.

Some of the fruity and spicy ones were marvellous, like the Smoking Guns (featuring spirit-of-the-minute mescal mixed with sage, lemon, yellow chartreuse and Hellfire Habanero Shrub, $20) and Vanilla Passion Fruit Pisco Sour (passionfruit-infused Santiago Queirolo Pisco, lime, vanilla, sugar, egg white, Boston bittahs, $18) - both brilliant in texture and flavour.

The wine list is short and carries some fun drops touching on various corners of the globe, from a lovely Valminor albarino from Rias Baixas in Spain ($17) to a 2009 Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge shiraz from the Grampians ($13). The five sparkling wines seem a better fit for this flashy, glittering cocktail bar and there's a whole row of dolled-up babes perched at the bar sipping on Paul Bara Brut ($19) when we leave.

We found the snack-type dishes with a French bistro bent to be lovely but overpriced. Two bite-size prawn and lobster sliders came to $22. Prepare to splash a bit of cash. This big, beautiful, brash hotel doesn't pretend to be anything else.

You'll love it if … you're adventurous in your new-bar exploits.

You'll hate it if … you like dive bars or quiet nooks.

Go for … Smoking Guns, Vanilla Passion Fruit Pisco Sour, the lifts.