“Are you ready to experience the future?” asked our bartender Frankie as we took our seats by the window at City Social. Luckily he wasn’t talking about a dystopian society in which drone-wielding cyborgs have taken over the cityscape that stretches out in front of us. No, he meant the future of drinking, which in this case equates to City Social’s new Mirage menu of “augmented reality” cocktails.
Augmented reality, Frankie explained, combines real life with computer-generated images, enhancing our experience of the real world. We nodded along, still not entirely sure what this has to do with Manhattans and Mai Tais.
In practice, it means that every drink on the new menu comes with its own high-tech coaster - customers download the Mirage at City Social app (the restaurant has upgraded its wifi specially), point their camera at the coaster and, lo and behold, an animation springs to life on the screen.
The menu is designed as a timeline of artistic genres, from ancient civilisations through Michelangelo and Van Gogh to Warhol and Banksy, so depending on the drink you might see Botticelli-esque cherubs, dancing flapper girls or warring Mayan gods prance around the glass, the table, your date’s face.
It’s an impressively innovative and amusing quirk, but the obvious question is why? A cynic might say it makes for great social media fodder: each animation is tagged with the City Social logo and users are encouraged to save and share them (type #citysocial or #miragecocktails into Instagram and you get the gist).
Others would argue that seeing as we’re all glued to our phones anyway, why not use them to enhance our sensory experience? Either way it makes for a great ice-breaker should you need one, once comments about the knockout views from the 24th floor have run dry.
Elsewhere the menu features the light, slightly lager-y aperitif Wheatfields with Fizz (Ketel One, elderflower, bee pollen, lemon, lager and egg white), in which aspects of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings come to life, his distinctive brushstrokes whizzing dizzyingly across the screen, and the syrupy-sweet Tallulah (Tanqueray 10, chamomile, Moet & Chandon, pineapple, vanilla, tarragon and lemon), in which a speakeasy scene unfolds on the table, with lines of flapper girls doing the Charleston before diving into the coupette.
The theatrics are confined to the technology; the drinks themselves are simply served and minimally garnished. The Huracan (Ron Zacapa 23, walnut oil, oloroso, salted honey and cacao nib bitters - served with a candied walnut and a side of augmented-reality warring Mayan gods) was my date’s favourite; I took a shine to The Creation (which conjures up those Botticelli cherubs, pointing their cupid’s bows at towering Greek marble columns) - its cumin-infused pear grappa adding a grassy note to the sweetness of Disaronno, with olive oil and egg white creating a pleasingly creamy consistency.
There’s lots more to discover on the menu; Instagram suggests we missed out on Day-of-the-Dead-style guitar-playing Mexican skeletons, neon Parisian landmarks and flaming 19th-century warships. So plenty of reasons to pay a visit: whether you’re an AR early-adopter, an art history buff or simply a fan of well-made cocktails in a sophisticated City drinking spot.