Ah, to live in a palace made of gin, afloat on giant ice cubes in a sea of tonic water, where cocktails were coloured by the tears of rainbow-hued unicorns …
Ah, to stop with such nonsense and make yourself a drink …
The term ‘gin palace’ harks back to 1820s England. Before then, gin shops were just that; small places that sold gin to either take away or drink standing up within the establishment. Legislation changed, and the gin shops had to also be able to sell ale or wine, which meant they had to get bigger. Meanwhile, fashionable new shops with lavish fit-outs and gas lamps were becoming popular; they had gorgeous displays and were manned by staff behind numerous counters. It wasn’t long before the gin shops followed suit, with ornate decor and counters for their staff to stand behind. In the late 1820s they were known as gin palaces, and although apparently none of the original palaces are still around, they have left a lasting legacy; their old-fashioned counters are the modern-day bars you see in pubs and cocktail lounges.
Melbourne’s Gin Palace opened in 1997 (well before gin became trendy again), and has been serving up gin and good times in equal measure ever since. It’s a lavish yet somewhat grungy laneway bar, the kind of comfortable, welcoming place where you might drop in for just one drink and emerge several hours (or days) later. It’s exactly the kind of gin palace you could imagine living in, though they don’t have rainbow-hued unicorns (yet).
Apart from their names, what the cocktail and the bar have in common is that they’re a sophisticated yet easily approachable way to kick off a big night – or end one. The cocktail is sweetly reminiscent of berries and ice cream, but the gin stops it from being overly cloying. You can make this using quaffing gin and sparkling wine, but if you really want to capture that palatial feeling, go all out and use your fanciest gin and Champagne, dahling. Mwah!
15ml blackberry liqueur or cassis (which is blackcurrant liqueur, and still delicious)
10ml vanilla liqueur (or good-quality vanilla vodka, such as Absolut Vanilia)
Champagne or sparkling wine
Blueberries to garnish, if desired
Champagne flute, chilled
Pour the gin and liqueurs (or their substitutes) into a chilled Champagne flute, then top up slowly with the bubbly. Garnish with the blueberries, if you like, or sip as is.
The Gin Palace cocktail recipe comes from Shaken: 250 very sexy cocktails (Murdoch Books, 2004).