The idea of the ‘covert bar’ — one tucked away from street view or requiring a password for entry, is usually seen in much larger cities. But lately, Auckland seems to be embracing the notion with the city’s newest cocktail bar, ACS, a spot that you ordinarily wouldn’t know about unless someone told you. And, having discovered this hidden Ponsonby gem for ourselves, we thought it only fair to offer you a first look behind its secret door, ahead of its official opening tomorrow.
From the same team behind Viaduct Harbour’s Parasol & Swing, ACS is a sleek new cocktail lounge that has taken up residence above The Broken Lantern on Ponsonby Road. The experience, once inside the hidden venue (with the help of a secret password given by the bar staff downstairs) is sumptuous and effortlessly cool. In fact, the interiors here were conceived by the talents at The Art Dept. — a group who played a role in the gorgeous interiors found in the likes of Hotel Ponsonby and Lillian, among numerous others around the City.
Inside ACS, opulent, rust velvet curtains, a gold-leafed bar and vintage orb chandeliers collide with gritty graffiti, raw brick and concrete. Eclectic but not over the top, the vibe here is like a 70s-boudoir-meets-80s-vintage-hip-hop-cocktail-bar. Here, artist Hayley Brown and designer Hannah Rayneau have steadfastly transformed the once-empty space into a layered, languid lounge, using soft lighting, low pool tables and perfectly-curated playlists to create the ideal vibe for relaxing with a drink or two from the bar’s intricate cocktail menu.
Behind the bar you’ll find some exceptional talent, with cocktail maestros recruited from overseas to deliver some much-needed excitement to our burgeoning specialty cocktail scene, alongside those who have been in the game here for years. ACS’ bar is helmed by Conor Morahan, who has brought his talents over from Parasol & Swing, along with PJ Renaud (also ex-Parasol & Swing), who was just crowned Auckland’s Best Bartender at the Lewisham Hospitality Awards. The venue manager is Lisa Kempen (of Caretaker fame). On the menu, expect inspired tipples, like the Only Fans Famous, with Mezcal, tequila, red capsicum, orange, Aperol and citrus soda, or the Earthly Desires, with Lapsang Souchong Armagnac, sandalwood, amaro, aperitif wine, lime and lemon oil. Much like its decor, ACS’s cocktails are modernised twists on classics, designed to taste great and be playful in their ingredients and presentation.
From the kitchen, owner Jason Rosen tells us to expect an extension of delights similar to those found at the bar below, such as gourmet toasties, pickled vegetables, cheeses and charcuterie — all divine offerings sure to satiate any late-night craving.
ACS also leans heavily into its potential for private events and intimate gatherings. There is a private pool room (with high-quality tables, sans essential coin slot), with luxury Barton McGill supplied cues and balls to match, alongside a boutique cinema space for those seeking somewhere inspired (and unique) to host.
And so, as ACS opens its doors to those in the know (or those who remember to ask the staff downstairs for the password), it also opens the door to a new kind of social affair — one that, if you ask Rosen, Aucklanders have been crying out for.
Level 2, 198 Ponsonby Road,