WALKING INTO STELLA for the first time on a recent visit, my initial reaction was to let out an incredulous laugh. Having already had my mind blown by my stay at Bangkok’s Capella Hotel — a glittery new luxury property situated along Thailand’s oldest paved road, just next to the Chao Phraya river — I assumed I had exhausted my capacity to be amazed. I was not prepared for the punch of opulence tucked behind the bar’s huge wooden door, which opens to a space that feels like an art deco fantasia. Within is a Chinese-inspired explosion of mirrored surfaces, rattan furniture, black-lacquer accents, and hand-painted walls depicting traditional scenes of birds in repose surrounded by exotic fauna. The sense that you have somehow entered a Gatsby-inspired aviary is palpable, due in no small part to a bar staff dressed in dark-purple velvet smoking jackets, but mostly thanks to the massive taxidermy peacock that serves as the centerpiece of the space. Perched on a mirrored pedestal, the all-white bird is resplendent under a huge white chandelier, giving the entire room an air of drama.
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The sweet and ever-so-slightly sour bite of the Currier hits all the right notes.
I also wrongly assumed that one would be hard-pressed to create a cocktail menu equal to the razzle-dazzle of the space, but Stella is up to the task. The menu itself presents its own narrative, drawing on history as a kind of organizing principle. The bar pays homage to four women who played important roles in Asia’s history — from Thailand, Khun Ying Mo; from Japan, Tomoe Gozen; from China, Zheng Yi Sao; and from India, Rani Lakshmi — each representing a base alcohol used in Stella’s signature cocktails and each represented by one dessert. Stella also offers what the bar manager describes to me as an “omakase counter,” which includes four small dishes, each with a specific cocktail pairing. During my week-long stay at the hotel, I eventually managed to try them all.
My favorite cocktail at Stella was the Currier, a drink inspired by Chinese pirate queen Zheng Yi Sao, described in the menu as having “raised one of China’s most formidable pirate armies. With a fleet of over 1,800 ships and more than 200,000 pirates under her command, she preyed on the fishing vessels, supply junks and coastal villages of Southern China with impunity.” Despite being influenced by a legendary bandit, the Currier (one of three Zheng Yi Sao–inspired drinks) is a relatively smooth affair, combining tequila and Campari with surprising notes of vanilla and chocolate. It’s easy to drink one without being overwhelmed by the flavors (in other words it’s easy to drink several of them). The Currier arrived with a tiny edible flower floating on top and with a bite-sized dessert, itself just as meticulously considered as everything else at Stella.
A bartender in a previous life, I was intrigued by the thinking behind this cocktail and how it was served. “It’s basically a twist on a margarita,” explains Capella’s Waraluck Wongwitdecha. “You then balance that flavor profile against Campari, which embellishes it with herbal character and bitterness. It finishes with a vanilla aroma to make it smoother. If you come to Stella, this is paired with the signature Chinese dessert called Cing Shin — a crispy coconut, praline, and pineapple pavlova that includes a light coconut mousse, which complements the creamy vanilla in The Currier.” As someone who loves the twang of tequila, the drink experience of a martini, and also has a sweet tooth, the sweet and ever-so-slightly sour bite of the Currier hits all the right notes.
Zheng Yi Sao is one of the most influential raiders in China’s history, commanding and raising more than 200,000 pirate armies in the eighteenth century. The Currier is pure bliss, illuminating the sweet-and-sour character of this powerful lady.
- 40 ml tequila (Ocho)
- 10 ml Campari
- 20 ml dry curaçao
- 10 ml vanilla syrup
- 2 dashes chocolate bitters
- Put all ingredients into shaker and fill with ice.
- Shake well and fine strain into a Nick & Nora glass and dash chocolate bitters.
- Garnish with edible flower.
T. Cole Rachel Writer
T. Cole Rachel is the deputy editor of Departures. A Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media, his writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Interview, and the Creative Independent.
Grant Cornett Photographer
Grant Cornett is a photographer and director based in upstate New York. He likes to take pictures of pristine detritus and austere moments.