THE BEST 20 PLACES IN THE WORLD TO ENJOY GIN
Inspired by the sheer number of gin festivals and brands being launched at the moment, we’re picking the best bars across the globe to sample the fabulous white spirit. Here, the organiser of World Gin Day, renowned expert Gin Monkey (aka Emma Stokes), recommends where to properly celebrate the humble juniper berry and the amazing gins and gin cocktails that are made with it.
American Bar at the Savoy – London
The Savoy Cocktail Book, written by Savoy Head Bartender Harry Craddock in 1930, features more gin cocktails than any other spirit. One of Craddock's most famous creations in there is the White Lady – gin with orange liqueur, lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg white. Where better to try one of these than in the bar it was created? Current Head Bartender Erik Lorincz has updated the White Lady with a modern classic of his own – Old Tom with celery bitters, fresh basil, lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg white for what he’s called the Green Park. Or just go for a classic Martini – one of the best in town.
Atlas – Singapore
There’s an amazing gin collection housed in this art deco venue, one of the most stunning bars you'll ever encounter. Walking in, you’re confronted by a 25-metre high room, where the back bar is a tower that reaches all of the way to the ceiling – and it’s filled with lots of gin. Head Bartender Roman Foltán, formerly of London’s Artesian bar, will mix their version of the Martini – gin, vermouth, orange bitters, champagne vinegar and pomelo. Plus there’s a Master of Gin, Jason Williams, employed to source and curate their gin collection. He’s doing his job well – because it’s 800 bottles, and counting.
Bathtub Gin – New York
The appropriately named Bathtub Gin in New York features a roll top bath just by the bar, along with local gins and a range of ‘Daisies, Fizzes and Revivers’ – popular in the 1930s. One of these, their Ivory Key, is a wonderful mix – with gin, curaçao liqueur, juniper syrup, orgeat, ginger, lemon, cream, lavender bitters and mint all shaken and then stirred. Served under the classic speakeasy tin roof, with low lighting and banquettes, this is a place with great atmosphere and wonderfully inventive bartending.
Bobby Gin – Barcelona
With Spain having the biggest gin market in the world, it’s not surprising there are two gin spots on this list for Barcelona. Headed up by bartender Alberto Pizarro, Bobby Gin has a list of about 200 types, with the occasional single bottle brought from friends and regulars after they’ve been travelling. They also have their own Modernessia gin, made with a local distiller, and have pioneered a style of drink they call the GinFonk, with botanical and citrus flavours added – the Tanqueray Ten version mixes with agave nectar, tangerine chamomile and kaffir lime.
Bramble – Edinburgh
Named after the late Dick Bradsell's famous cocktail – gin with lemon juice, sugar syrup and crème de mure – Bramble is a cocktail institution on the Edinburgh bar scene. Seasonal berries, homemade mango and cinnamon liqueur, and plum and rosemary syrup are on offer – Bramble has great ways with fruit as well as with gin. Try their new Braeamble gin liqueur, created by the owners in collaboration with gin expert Craig Harper and US bartender/bar owner Jeffrey Morgenthaler.
City of London Distillery – London
During the 18th century ‘Gin Craze’, nearly every London street had a gin distillery or gin shop, but all good crazes have to come to an end and few distilleries survived. More interest in the spirit, however, has encouraged the likes of the City of London Distillery, which opened in 2012 – and it’s real evidence of resurgence. You can enjoy one of five gins they produce in-house, amongst the stills where they were made – these include two versions of the classic London Dry style, as well as sloe gin, and the favourite type of gin from those 18th century times, Old Tom. Old Tom is known as the missing link between the forerunner or gin, Dutch Genever, and the current London Dry style (it’s drier than Genever but sweeter than London Dry). There are plenty of the classic gins as well at the City of London Distillery, and you can distil your own bottle of your own recipe to take away using a miniature alembic stills as part of the Gin Lab sessions.
Dry Martini – Barcelona
A rite of passage for any gin fan, Dry Martini opened in 1978 and its dark wood and comfy banquettes deliver the old-fashioned hotel bar experience that has long been appreciated. Javier de las Muelas now owns it as part of his large group of bars, with Pedro Carbodell overseeing operations, and this is the one place in the world you should order a classic Dry Martini – they’ve made a million of them since starting out. You can also sample more modern creations, like G&T jelly, and there’s an ‘Academy’ where they train staff.
Gin Palace – Melbourne
Named after the original Melbourne Gin Palace, which closed in 1870, Gin Palace reappeared in the 1990s, well before the current gin revival. A cosy venue, it has a touch of kitsch with a bathtub in the corner full of cushions – referencing the ‘bathtub gins’ of years past. There's a focus on Australian products too, with local distillers and ingredients. Plus the garnishes are something different. Try their Old Fashioned, which comes with homemade honey joy (cornflake cake) on the side.
Holborn Dining Rooms – London
Boasting the biggest gin collection in London, the Holborn Dining Rooms is a must-visit if you're looking to explore this wonderful spirit. With over 400 gins – over 100 distilled in the UK – and 30 tonics, gin lovers can savour over 14,000 possible combinations – and that's before you even get to the cocktails! All this, served at a copper bar, and housed in a gorgeous building with an amazing restaurant to boot. It’s run by a team including Julien Foussadier, previously at catering company Searcys, and owned by hotel company Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.
Merchant House – London
Merchant House is home to one of the biggest collections of both gin and rum in the world – but make sure you get the right one, because there are two branches and the gin and rum-focused venue is on London’s Bow Lane, in a basement location. Inspired by the history of the British Empire where ships would hold rations of both gin and rum on board, this bar celebrates the two side-by-side. The cocktail menu is beautifully put together with hand-drawn illustrations and guests can pick from five different styles of Martini, ordered by taste. No. 4, for example, is perfect if you like smooth, liquorice and velvet notes. Each cocktail is named after a historical event or famous name from the Empire past – Black as Hell is an ode to the popularity of coffee in the 18th century, mixing Old Tom Gin, stout, coffee, amaro and bitters.
Pegu Club – New York +1 212-473-7348
Named after the classic cocktail derived from a British Officer’s club near the Gulf of Martaban, in Burma, this is a bar at the very top of its game. Crafting infusions, tinctures and syrups, as well as their own ginger beer, Audrey Saunders leads the way – he’s created modern classics like the Earl Grey MarTEAni with Earl Grey-infused gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg white, and the Gin-Gin Mule with gin, lime, sugar syrup, fresh ginger, mint and ginger beer. Enjoy these and more, including some great versions of the classics.
Pleased to Meet You – Newcastle
Located in a lovely old stone building just off Grey Street in the centre of the city, Pleased to Meet You – or PTMY as they like to be called – has around 100 brands, with rotated guest gins, including those made locally, and Genever and Old Tom styles. Their cocktail menu puts classics alongside innovative house creations like the Mary Phillips, a mix of Edinburgh Gin, apricot brandy, Edinburgh Raspberry Gin, fresh grapefruit juice and gomme syrup to great effect. PTMY also produce tasting menus alongside the kitchen, which feature classic gin flavours, such as citrus, juniper and tea.
The Barber Shop – Sydney
Gin Bar of the Year 2016 at the Australian Bartender magazine awards went to The Barber Shop – and with good reason. Housing an extensive range of over 350 gins, including an impressive number of Genevers, the bar is accessed through The Barber Shop partition door, somewhat hidden at the back. The cocktail menu is cleverly arranged on a flavour axis of ‘sweet’, fruity’ and ‘sour’, and you can try their Martini Project formula, where guests are shown the steps towards creating the perfect Martini. Owner Mike Enright has also just launched a range of men’s grooming products made with gin botanicals – but don’t try drinking those!
The Gin Club – Madrid
At the forefront of Spain's G&T scene, The Gin Club is a slick, high-end example of the trend. There’s a 50/50 ratio of gin to tonic and zingingly fresh citrus garnish. Head through the restaurant Mercado de la Reina to reach the bar – you’ll also find a terrace for long summer evenings where you can sit out with a long Spanish style Copa de Balón glass in hand.
The Canary Gin Bar – Bath
Spreading over two floors, The Canary Gin Bar in Bath has a main bar on the ground floor, and a specialist Martini bar hiding upstairs where bartender Tom Pople works his magic. They also run a distillery that you can look around, or blend your own recipe from a range of ready-made distillates. On World Gin Day last year they closed an entire road: now that's what you call a love for gin! And you have to get a piece of their tasting notes too. The Avant Garden cocktail is described as: “Gin visits Les Deux Garçons, the famous bar of The Coeur Mirabeau (a wide boulevard with double rows of plane trees, at Aix-en-Provence).”
The Clumsies – Athens
One of the world’s best bars, The Clumsies doesn’t specialise in any one spirit, but their bartenders craft exceptional gin cocktails, such as their take on the Ramos Gin Fizz called The Shaker Boys. This comes with London Dry Gin, pecan cream and cider. But instead of being carbonated, baker’s yeast is added to the drink in an open barrel and after 4–6 days it’s ready to drink. They then add agave syrup, calvados, herbs, water and coconut oil. Then before serving, the flute is given a brush of Earl Grey tea. You’ll want to visit just for this one drink, but their homemade Old Tom Gin is also worth sampling, as is a version of the Aviation, Catch Me If You Can. There’s some highly experimental mixing on show at this city centre site.
The Gin Room – St. Louis
At the front of Cafe Natasha's, a Persian-inspired restaurant in St Louis, you'll find The Gin Room. With over 100 gins in their collection (including barrel-aged versions) and a great set of bartenders – Jen, Savannah and Bobby – you’ll surely be converted. Distillers teach masterclasses on macerating botanicals and there are constant flavour experiments – brown sugar sage, acai and apple-flavoured tonic. This is a place with a huge passion for gin, and quality cocktails to match.
The Woods – Hong Kong
This tucked-away bar in Hong Kong’s Central District is one of the best in Asia. An eight-seater reservations-only area has a three-course menu – and cocktails are the stars of the show, served with dishes on the side. The cocktails are ever changing and wonderfully experimental, from a house-infused beetroot gin in a Beet Negroni, to a mixture of gin, snow peas, Green Chartreuse, apple juice, tarragon, lemon juice, pea sprouts and egg white in what they’ve called a Poddington Pea. Definitely one to explore.
Whitechapel – San Francisco
Whitechapel in San Francisco is firmly in the London gin heritage camp, with a website full of dark alleyways and old fonts – and a menu that references the East London district from which it gets its name. Hence Whitechapel has its own Victorian dry gin, used across their cocktails, plus they serve gin-laced punches if you’re part of a larger party. One cocktail that stands out is the Queen Mother, a combination of gin, Dubonnet, ginger liqueur and lemon-celery bitters. Run by Bartender Alex Smith (formerly of Novela, Gitane and Gather) and Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove, with entrepreneur John Park also involved, it’s a must-visit place.
56 North – Edinburgh
This restaurant and bar near the Meadows area houses an epic collection of gins, including one of the biggest ranges from Scotland. With a nod to malt whisky, the staff have even put together a ‘Gin Map’ of Scottish distillers. There are flavour notes on the major tonic brands on the menu, and a list of garnishes divided into ‘citrus and fruity’, ‘herbal and savoury’ and ‘adventurous’. A lot of thought has gone into the 56 North set up, and they also run a masterclass series to help you delve deeper into great gin.