The Temperance Society were a dour lot. “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch ours." No wonder they looked so mean – no one was kissing them. No fear of that at Palmer and Co, a speakeasy-style bar hidden behind Establishment. Not only is it very easy to get a drink, but we’re guessing it’s probably not much of a struggle to get a kiss here either. Especially if the lips are attached to a guy in a suit with a yearly salary in the low six figures, of which there are many.
Unlike other moustache-whiskey bars around town where you have to be out by 1am at the latest, Palmer and Co sport a 5am license. So while it’s totally respectable to head earlier in the evening to catch Sarah and the Reckless Gentlemen play live near one of the three separate liquor dispensaries and have a bite to eat, this bar really hits its straps late. In that respect, the latest Merivale bar feels like a real speakeasy.
Take a seat at the bar in the far right corner or maybe one of the low-slung tables dotted through the middle of the room. Depending on where you’ve placed yourself, you’ll either be served by one of the dapper bartenders, decked out in full ’20s regalia, or a cocktail waitress dressed in flapper gear. The latter is kind of cute, but without the hair to match it looks more sass & bide than Bonnie and Clyde.
The bones of this room are beautiful. High rounded bare-brick ceilings have been decorated with old mugshots of rum runners, bootleggers and, hilariously slipped in the mix, Bridget Fonda. Beautiful tiling on the floor and along the walls, old glass display cabinets with rare whiskeys and rums, lighting that bathes everyone in a dirty warm glow.
The incredible attention to detail continues through to a very impressive selection of rums, whiskeys and tequila. The menu, however, labours a little too hard on the prohibition/speakeasy theme when the room, drinks, service and music do the job for them. That said, the drinkables really are a cut-above and they’ve spared no expense fitting the bar out with stunning glassware, bar tools and bartenders who exercise an incredible amount of care and skill with their drinks-making.
Watch as your bartender flicks the bitters onto the side of the glass so you get a little bit with every sip. As our guy finishes off making a Side Car, he gently spoons a small measure of Cognac on to the top of the drink. It’s the little things. Choose between a page of twists-on-your-classics such as a Hollywood Sour – their riff on a Trinidad Sour. Here, a very large measure of angostura bitters and Calvados is tempered with apple and lemon juice and a little vanilla syrup, all shaken up. It’s a great entry-level version of a pretty intense cocktail.
There’s also a page of prohibition drinks, including the Vieux Carré – a personal favourite – of Cognac, rye, sweet vermouth, Dom Benedictine and two types of bitters. We’ll be going back for a Blood and Sand (whisky, cherry brandy
, orange juice, sweet vermouth) next time, maybe with the sandwich of the day. That food menu has a sort of old-fashioned working-man’s diner vibe: mac’n’cheese; chopped liver and eggs; meatballs and hunks of bread; a big sandwich of corned beef on bittersweet rye bread with a pile of pickles livened up with a slash of hot English mustard; matzo ball soup. It’s all good, share-worthy stuff.
It’s all about old-fashioned glamour at Palmer and Co. Frock up, suit up, go late and don’t go home.