Three cheers for gin, juice and debauchery until the small hours
A grande dame of the Melbourne bar scene, this louche, basement-level cocktail lounge has been keeping people loose and liquored for just shy of 20 years. Its enduring appeal and unflagging sass make it a clear choice for Time Out's Legend Award. The default drinking spot among the city’s post-shift bartenders, plus tie-loosened office workers and huddles of tourists, Vernon Chalker’s enigmatic speakeasy is at its hedonistic best as the night wears on. With a few drinks under your belt, the swathes of velvet, tapestry and animal print take on a bordello-chic vibe, and the admittedly wallet-stinging prices don’t hurt nearly as much.
Cosy, couch-filled nooks beckon for Martini-driven mischief, and clutches of chaises longues imply that it’s fine to recline. Whichever state of mind and time of day you find yourself here, rest assured that the bar team will be on hand to mix you up a mean cocktail. Gin, naturally, is at the heart of the Palace’s party-starting repertoire, with a book-length selection of juniper juice from around the world. There are classic London Dry gins, original Dutch genevers and boutique Australian examples made using native botanicals, plus artisanal Americans and fruity sloe gins from the Netherlands. Each listing is accompanied by tasting notes and historical references, so you can convince yourself that you’re being schooled while you’re getting sloshed.
For those who like their Martinis slick with vermouth, zero in on the Wet and Dirty Martini, with a saline smack of brine and a skewered trio of tiny green olives. If the line-up of 60-odd bottles makes you want to go off-piste, have the expert crew mix you up a bespoke concoction, perhaps a punch-packing Gimlet made with Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin. In fact, Four Pillars owner Stuart Gregor credits Gin Palace with the birth of this heavy-hitting distillation, when ex-head bartender Shaun Byrne requested something stronger for his patrons. Yes, it’s a legend that begets legends – and long may it live.