Review – Wonder Horse.

First time writing a review, feedback is always appreciated =)

Hamilton is a very unusual city. It’s rather small, so if you have intimacy issues you probably shouldn’t move here. Because it is small everything gets smooshed together, which is very convenient when navigating the city centre, as you really don’t have to walk far for food. Side by side the main street is lined with little café’s, eateries, restaurants, bistros and so on. You name it, and chances are it’s next door. This can make dining out and socialising somewhat frustrating though, as it becomes hard to distinguish the good from the bad from the what the actual o_0

Tonight however, I was lead by my friend Jenna down a mysterious alley way and through a narrow doorway into what can only be summed up as a paradise land.

Its official name: Wonder Horse.

From past memory the site used to be an old Mexican joint which was notoriously hidden behind the first layer of restaurants (think alley-ception, to find gems in Hamilton you must always go deeper). Now it has been converted into a bar. But the word ‘bar’ tarnishes the true value this establishment has built for itself.

From walking in you are met with a dimly-lit, yet warm opening area. The large bar top nestling against your left side bends around to guide you across the width of the room.  Deeper in you notice leatheresque couches, each with a small table or two in bright colours of aqua and red. There is also an upstairs area, though it sounded rather full and convinced us to stay downstairs (near the bar, naturally). Overall first impressions are ‘this is a place many call home’ because the construction holds such dignity worthy of that title. Gazing to the front you then see the vast array of alcoholic ingredients filling the shelves, everything from absinthe to zambuca (well, it feels like it, though I will happily report there is a very liberal supply of whiskey). I say ingredients, because what the gentlemen behind the bar accomplished is less drink making and more Heston Blumenthal inspired magic (if you don’t know HB then please direct your attention to this Wiki article – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heston_Blumenthal ).

Jenna ordered a Mojito, and convinced me to order an Old Fashioned. Now I know of many people with their own interpretations of what constitutes an Old Fashioned, but to be honest if the drink respects the whiskey involved, then it’s okay in my books. We settled onto some squared bar stools and watched our gentleman/bartender twirl his enchantingly long spoon, beginning the initiation process.

Nothing was flawed.

The glasses were brilliantly balanced, the alcohol generously measured, the sugar lovingly heaped, the mint clapped gently (no hurting the poor leaves now). Even the ice received special treatment inside a hand-cranked crusher that churned out delightfully small, rounded ice pieces. The prices are very generous considering the showmanship that goes into every artwork. It genuinely feels like the drink you receive underwent a transformation, from mere mortal alcohol to liquid infinite passion. The emotions infused send you into a euphoric state impervious to social blunders.

These drinks don’t just start small talk, they infuse conversations.

Universe, if I were so lucky to acquire a date in the next five weeks, I promise to treat them to this magnificent establishment. It is the perfect place for getting together, getting cozy, getting intimate.

Wonder Horse, you win the title of ‘Hamilton’s best bar’ by a full length, from now on I place my bets on you.

E.

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NanSanTiao.

NanSanTiao is a fantastical commercial wonderland. Located near the main city centre on ZhongShan Lu it is a collection of, at last count, eight warehouses. (However this is a guesstimate, I still have no idea how deep the rabbit hole actually goes). It is well known by the locals and foreigners as being the place to go for the cheaper side of China.

From the outside it all looks rather inconspicuous. There are many small stores lining the exteriors, most selling drink tumblers, the rest selling cleaning equipment. The street that dominates NanSanTiao is forever packed with cars, tuk-tuks and people. Sometimes the crowd can be overwhelming, but you can navigate yourself around if you follow the one golden rule that is never stop moving.

The main entrances to the warehouses are covered by plastic air shields that distinguish these tunnels from the myriad of shops around them. There are some warehouse signs such as ‘Make-up hall’ and ‘Gift hall’ atop the buildings. These give you more a sense of direction, rather than an indication to what’s inside.

Heed the warning: Enter these warehouses at your own peril. Many wallets have entered armed and prepared for battle (haggle), and left the arena spent.

The Game of NanSanTiao has two rules you must obey if you are to be successful*

NanSanTiao has everything you thought you’d never want (and maybe some things you actually want). Considering a fake iPad? Done. Maybe a large golden statue of Mao? Step right in. Discovered that you must have a large glass Chinese cabbage put in your display cabinet? You have come to the right place my friend.

You will never find what you actually need. Ever.

*success is a lie. So is the cake.

Types of warehouses/shops/items you find in NanSanTiao –

Three storeys of shops filled handbags, purses, wallets, travel bags.
An outside market for bedding, blankets and foam.
A shop dedicated to selling tinsel for those all year round purposes.
Wedding bouquets to make your eyes bleed.
Two floors of stationery stocked with so many pens you could have one for every day of the year.
Derpy dog statues, along with derpy Buddha statues.
Penis lamps.
A store for fruit sealed in glass bottles, complete with wraparound mirror display cabinets for that added WTF.

However tucked within the chaos you will find some beautiful little treasures. There are one or two decent art shops that sell paint, charcoals and paper. I bought my latest handbag, a green giraffe inspired design, from the depths of the bag warehouse (after many, many trips). And again, thanks to Ollie (my favourite coffee enthusiast), I have found a remarkable little shop called Otai that sells Kopi Luwak coffee aka catshit coffee. It is the most delicious little blend and I will be sure to buy it all out before coming home so you folks in New Zealand can experience it.

NanSanTiao is exactly what you expect commercial China to feel like. A maze filled with sensory overloaded visuals, pulling you in sideways, slantways, longways and backways. I wish I had the words to describe it more, but I cannot do it justice. There is just so much time and so little to do there.
Wait a minute.
Strike that. Reverse it.
Thank you.

E.