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Published June 3rd 2013
Update March 11th 2015
NOTE: Chilliwow closed in late 2014, and now is the home of Sway Bar and Nightclub
It's difficult to say whether the experience I had with Chilliwow Mexican Cantina & Bar was evidence of growing pains, since the much talked about Mexican themed bar had just opened a few days earlier.
In the lead up to the opening, there has been plenty of talk via a clever social media campaign about the Valleys newest themed concept bar. Unfortunately on my visit they failed to raise the bar service wise, or for that matter put the wow in Chilliwow in terms of their service.
I'm not reviewing this place purely on service, but that said, I do think it's worth giving the low down when it came my experience here. And since every bar or restaurant is entitled to have a bad night, it's quite possible what I'm about to describe was just an isolated experience. The place did just open literally only days ago, and it's quite likely they are still finding their feet. But here I go…
We arrived at just after 8, and even though the place was lively and already fairly busy, the bar itself was only one deep. Unfortunately service was uncharacteristically slow despite counting five staff working at the bar.
No matter, I thought since the fun atmosphere and the funky old school tunes were keeping my spirits up. When it finally came to us being served, they had ran out of cold Coronas (bad planning there), so we settled on another brew local to Mexico called Pacifico which I can recommend as being crisp and delish but perhaps more malty in taste than Corona. Like a Corona my friend asked for a lime in her beer, but this was met with derision from the bartender who seemed to have the attitude of this being a major request.
Expect a huge and impressive range of mexican liquor at Chilliwow
Speaking of the bar staff, they definitely looked the part (think alternative hipster types with cool hair) but they all seemed to believe their own hype just a little bit. Instead of serving, they seemed too focused on juggling cocktail shakers and chatting among each other. Yes we know you work in a cool place, but that doesn't mean you need to look so relaxed like you could be poolside and not serving waiting customers with any form of urgency.
On my second trip to the bar, we ordered three chilli dogs (chorizo and jalepeno) and two tacos between us and tried to find a table outside in their sloped concrete area complete with outdoor projector screen. I'll freely admit I loved all the different areas in Chilliwow. From the upstairs mezzanine level overlooking the bar to the funky industrial themed outdoor area, Chilliwow is definitely a great place to hang out, and our group had fun people watching and enjoying the party atmosphere.
The outdoor area is complete with massive projector screen and heaps of space
After more than one hour passed taking in the atmosphere without our food showing up it appeared our food wasn't coming. Eventually we hailed the waitress, and lucky we did since she apologised sincerely and our food arrived in the next five minutes – we'd obviously been overlooked. Of course it does happen, but it did little to soften our irritable experiences at the bar before, and when hungry people do start getting a little cranky.
I guess one of the most important things to mention about Chilliwow is that it is a bar first and a tacqeria second. Their authentic Mexican drink selection is legendary, but their food basic but tasty. Consider the food at Chilliwow to be snacks to go with your drinks, rather than drinks to go with your food.
That said my chorizo chilli dog was tasty, and as you might expect had a killer chilli kick. My friend's tacos were so spicy she begged me to try them, and if I thought my chilli dog was bold in the spice department, this kicked my arse like nothing I'd ever tried. My beer did little to stave off the fire on the roof of my mouth. Chilli wow it was.
All things considered, the atmosphere of Chilliwow is real winner, and it's safe to say this place is already a hit with regular Valley rats. I'm predicting this place will just get more popular since they have a really cool concept and it's unlike anything else in Brisbane at the moment. Think Guzman Y Gomez but with more alcohol and less food and a more extreme atmosphere. I do think it may have been a bad night but bad attitudes from staff are something I'll never speak favourably of.
They regularly have an authentic Mexican mariachi band playing so try and time your visit with the band playing if you can for an even more authentic Mexican vibe. At the very least you can expect cool tunes from the 70s (Pink Floyd) and some more funky remixes of classics from the same era in the music department.
In short Chilliwow, is cool and obviously so hot right now.But if they start believing their own hype and neglect good service they might find people sticking to the safe bets since there so many other cool bars popping up in the valley. Some of them just around the corner like Alfred and Constance and next door's Kerbside. In fact it's where we continued our night on the town after being only mildly wowed by Chilliwow, but glad we checked it out nonetheless.
Chlliwow is at 22 Constance Street Fortitude Valley. Open Wednesday-Sunday .
There are so many cool bars popping up around Brisbane now but it seems that Chilliwow is no exception to this frequently found aloof attitude from wait staff among them. I believe that staff are chosen to fit the theme and look the part rather than experience. There is a 'take it or leave it' attitude towards spending your money as there is never a shortage of cash flow in these places.
I must say this review was well written with honesty and no harm done by providing both sides of the experience. It is possible to review an experience such as this in such a constructive way for both the restaurant and the community to make up their own minds. Well done.