The Sign – There is a fish in my Gin & Tonic
Palate treats and eye candy come to my mind when I think of my visit to The Sign Cocktail Lounge. A bar that has already won the Mixology Award for Best Bar Austria twice in succession. This year The Sign has been nominated again. The brain behind the concept is Kan Zuo, who hails from China, and who won the Falstaff Magazine 2015 Bartender of the year. Many reasons, therefore, to be my first destination on my adventure in Vienna!
The bar is located in the 9th district, a bit outside of the bustling centre, but only a stone’s throw away from Halbestadt – another iconic bar you have to visit, by the way. In 2007, the bar opened its door bringing a breath of fresh air to the local bar scene. Vienna offers many bars in the classical sense of an American Bar. Kan Zuo’s approach was to offer his guests more playful and fancy drinks. His drinks are indeed very creative and exceptional from the choice of the ingredients to the way they are served. Here, a cocktail can look like an Artist’s palette or is served in a quirky mug.
Unusual presentation and unusual ingredients. Palate treats and eye candy await you at The Sign.
When I entered the venue, I was surprised by its huge size. I wasn’t prepared for that and I was happy to find my place at the long golden bar counter. You will find many tables and comfortable chairs to enjoy the Asian food and the cocktails but like everywhere I prefer my seat at the bar. The interior is unintrusive and elegant, the atmosphere laid back and friendly. An impressive back bar houses a vast collection of spirits and some playful decorative gadgets. I must say I felt comfortable immediately and the bartender handed me the bar menu – a beautiful book with nice drawings which I adored. The menu is clearly structured and guides you from cocktail techniques to the drinks and bar food in a playful and understandable way. Sometimes a little drawing pops up and takes you on a journey to somewhere else. There are little Koi everywhere and I asked the bartender what it is about. He answered: “Koi are special and unique. This is how we see our guests.” Koi also adorn Kan Zuo’s forearm. Koi represent strength, stamina and ambition in Japan, and these are also the values that helped Kan Zuo to overcome all the difficulties he faced at the beginning of his career. But this is long ago and almost forgotten.
While I was browsing the beautiful menu, the bartender prepared me a tiny welcome Gin & Tonic, both homemade. There are around 80 drinks on the menu – wow! Efficiency, speed and the set up are mandatory despite the opulent decorations. If everything is well prepared the number of drinks doesn’t matter, said the bartender. They work quickly, very precisely behind the bar and they still keep an eye on the guests.
Aside from the originality of the cocktails, it’s the level of attention from the team that captured me from the first visit.
My first drink of choice was the Szechuan Pepper Daiquiri. A refreshing play on a Daiquiri with Angostura 1919 Rum and a nice szechuan button. Have you ever tried a szechuan button? It is electrifying and worth trying with the drink. When I found out that Mr. Wu’s selection on the menu came out of the head of the bartender in front of me, his nickname is Mr. Wu, I opted for the Pear in Red. As a big fan of local spirits, this libation based on pear and juniper distillate, mixed with thyme, clove, tonka bean, vanilla, red wine, lime, egg white and rounded off with pepper, suited me very nicely.
Next I opted for a quirky presentation and something lighter. Okay, there were some drinks in between where I found out that my zodiac is agave. But to keep this story short, I was holding a fish bowl with a wiggling plastic Nemo in my hand. A playground for adults came to my mind when I watched the bartender preparing my Fish & Tonic, with a big smile on my face. The child in me was clapping her hands. Of course, it wasn’t an ordinary Gin & Tonic, it was refined with Fino Sherry, eucalyptus, clarified lemon juice, peach and very tasty .
I stayed much longer than planned, I had tasty drinks, a lot of popcorn and a nice chat with a cocktail enthusiast sitting next to me. What makes my nights special are the drinks, but what makes them extraordinary are the people. You won’t find Kan Zuo resting on his laurels, he is down to earth and I am keeping my fingers crossed for the next award. This is a place not to be missed when in Vienna.
Thank you King Kan and Mr. Wu for this great adventure.
Visit The Sign Cocktail Lounge