Bar Tab: Alquímico, Cartagena

If the colonial-style streets aren’t enough of a theme park to a distant time, stepping through the red velvet curtains of Alquímico, Cartagena can certainly feel like a portal to the 19th century. On a recent Thursday evening, a couple of weary travellers were swiftly embraced by the calm and serenity of the ground floor bar, the weight and grime of a hard day’s sightseeing visibly lifting from their shoulders. You could sense their desire to linger at the first bar they encountered in the storied three-floor mansion house, but also their belief that to do so would just skim the surface of what could become an extraordinary or even fabulous tale. As a horse-drawn carriage leads a joyful wedding party down the street outside, the bottles lining the wall twitch in celebration and a pair of Colombian entrepreneurs look up from their negronis for a second. Is there a more international combination than start-ups and negronis? Perhaps seeking a more pleasing link to their locale, the pair enquire hopefully about the borojo-infused white rum and the bartender is happy to oblige. Our tourists climbed the stairs to the second floor, stopping briefly to enjoy the ghost’s-eye-view of the ground floor tenders at work. The table nearest the trophy cabinet is free, but the others are occupied by other travellers – all sun-kissed skin and excited babble about the Rosario Islands, the Sierra Nevadas and their dinner plans. They’re working up an appetite over mojitos de la casa (Havana 7, spearmint, lemon sage, lime and soda) and Selva Martinis (Tanqueray Ten, jungle vermouth and herbal oils). But the top floor is where the magic really comes to life. Smartly dressed New Yorkers lean against the bar with Remolachas (rum, beetroot wine and sugar) and Yipaus (mezcal, tamarillo syrup, thyme and bay leaf soda) while a group from Bogota salsa choque to the hyper rhythms of their shared Colombian culture. The red lights behind the bar – Cartagena my love – drench everyone in a vibrant glow – the magic realism of a Márquez essay, alive amongst the passion for shared experiences, farm-grown ingredients and life. Our duo look from one to the other and wonder whether life is always this good when you keep climbing. (Cl. del Colegio #34-24, @alquimicocartagena). Read more Bar Tabs here.