• You definitely won't get bored here. (MONA/Jesse Hunniford)
Done browsing Hobart’s MONA? Its Faro tapas bar is as unpredictable and surprising as the art-filled museum.
By
Lee Tran Lam

27 Jun 2018 - 9:39 AM  UPDATED 26 Jun 2018 - 11:31 AM

Should we start with the pig’s eye margarita?

Not long after Faro opened, the bar triggered headlines worldwide for its charcoal-black cocktail – which is garnished with a pig’s eyeball encased in ice.

The tapas joint is located inside Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), which is known for its not-so-conventional approach to exhibiting art – so it's apt that its latest venue is also a big conversation-starter (and occasional brain-scratcher). The museum’s founder David Walsh wanted guests to be challenged and a drink that stares you right in the eye definitely lives up to that request.

So what’s the deal with the Black Margarita (as it’s officially called)? Who came up with the idea and how exactly is it made? (And where do they get all the eyeballs from?)

You can credit artist/curator Kirsha Kaechele (who is also Walsh’s wife) for the cocktail’s concept. She worked closely with MONA’s bar staff to “create a drink that would challenge guests visibly”, explains Pip Anderson, who manages the museum’s various venues.

“We get six eyeballs a week, because the kitchen orders three whole pigs a week for site. Our chefs utilise the whole beast, so Kirsha challenged, ‘why don't we use the eyes too?’,” says Anderson. “The eyeballs are frozen and hand-carved into spheres the size of an apricot.”

Each one graphically garnishes a margarita that’s pitch-black from the addition of activated charcoal.

While each pupil is deeply embedded inside a hefty ball of ice, what if guests are unable to finish the cocktail before the ice melts and a raw eyeball is deposited straight into their drink?

“If it takes you that long to drink a margarita and it melts,” she says (perhaps with tongue firmly in cheek?), “you are doing something wrong.”

The museum’s founder David Walsh wanted guests to be challenged and a drink that stares you right in the eye definitely lives up to that request.

With the kitchen only receiving a half-dozen eyeballs each week, though, what happens when more than six people order the cocktail?

“Not every drink comes with one: you may get one, you may not. You may request one, you might get it, you might not. Chaos. Frustrating. That's the point,” she says – perhaps deploying yet another tongue-in-cheek response.

The drink is, clearly, more than a straightforward thirst-quencher, though. (There’s table water for that no-questions-asked purpose.) In fact, the Black Margarita operates on enough levels to convince you it’s not just a clickbait-friendly creation.

“[It’s] a cocktail that is so dark you can not look through it, yet there is an eyeball staring back at you, whilst you sit in a luminous white room," says the manager.

That white room is actually inside a triangle-shaped space, with sweeping wall-to-ceiling views of the surrounding Derwent River. But that’s not even the most eye-catching part of the space – that honour belongs to Unseen Seen, a massive globe-shaped installation by James Turrell. The American artist is the focus of the new Pharos wing at the museum, with four new works of his competing for your attention (and eyeballs).

If you need a primer on James Turrell, his works are famous for testing and gently scrambling your vision. Sometimes they’re vividly kaleidoscopic, or based on subtle light changes inside a geometric room, or they frame the clouds above you as they quietly transform (which his open-roof Skyspace installations do around the world).

When a retrospective of his work appeared at New York’s Guggenheim in 2014, it was the highest-attended exhibition in the museum’s history. Turrell’s Skyspace at Canberra’s National Gallery of Art eventually became the institution’s most-visited artwork. But if you’ve never walked through either venue, you’ll know Turrell as the artist that Drake allegedly “ripped off” for the look of his Hotline Bling video. (Turrell wryly said he was “flattered” by the tribute.)

So it’s quite a coup to have one of Turrell's installations right inside Faro’s bar. Without revealing everything that happens once you enter that perception-scrambling structure, it’s fun to experience Unseen Seen with someone else. Watching the light show inside the installation with them, you might have a completely different reaction (the installation varies from a hypnotic haze of colours to a thumping white-out that makes you wonder if your eyes are even open).

If you visit Faro during the day, you can pre-book Unseen Seen and another Turrell artwork, Weight of Darkness, as a bonus addition to your museum ticket. At night, though, you can order these experiences like dishes off a menu. (Walk-ins are welcome – if they can find the tricky entrance to the bar when the museum isn’t open, that is – but reserving the night-time experiences in advance is a good idea.)

“As there are only 23 spots that can go through the artwork[s] per night, most are booked out in advance,” says Anderson. “But a friendly poke to your waiter and they may be able to make it happen.”

Should you skip the Black Margarita, there’s plenty else you can request for your table, from jamón sliced to order to fried oyster boccadillos and smoked greens with goat’s curd and green gazpacho.

At night, though, you can order these experiences like dishes off a menu.

And given Anderson’s previous jobs (including 10 years as a chef, and four years as a sommelier for Merivale), how does working at Faro measure up?

 

"There is no comparison. A $30 million wing [with] a Randy Polumbo sex grotto in it. A Richard Wilson [installation] with oil, lots of it. A Jean Tinguely that achieves nothing. A Nam June Paik Abraham Lincoln. Then there is the light tunnel [by James Turrell]. Plus you are underground, above sea level, can access via tunnels if we choose to open them – if we don't, good luck to you."

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @leetranlam and Instagram @leetranlam. 


Faro

Wed–Mon 11am - late 

Pharos, Museum of Old and New Art, 655 Main Road, Berriedale TAS 7011


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