A great bar is particularly well tested in daylight: atmosphere, service and choice can all evaporate in the cold light of day so it’s fantastic to find myself on a daylight visit to the Gin Palace in Dublin. At 13 years old, it’s already an established master at the art of gin and conjures excitement in an arena that other bars are only now waking up to.
Step through its doors any afternoon and the rich red walls, the leather and wood, the light and shade reflected in its mirrors and the easy, friendly welcome all reassure you that you are in a great Dublin pub.
Two vivacious Belfast sisters sit up at the bar beside me, each of us testing a recommendation that the Gin Palace is a leader in its field.
A torrent of learning flows across the bar as Mark Kilbride and Colin Daly blend cracked pepper with strawberries and Brockman gin. A Kerry winter is conjured from cinnamon and Dingle Gin, while herbal tonics can’t cool the sting of Colin’s own-recipe gin that has jalepeno and chipotle pepper at its heart.
There are 156 different brands on the shelves and the flavours and combinations are striking. There’s a touch of the Long Hall about the place. It’s elegant and warm and, as we relax at the bar, we start to talk – about gin, the bar, its regulars, about Belfast and trad sessions and the price of taxis.
Bottles are passed back and forth as we smell and taste and laugh at how little the Belfast sisters and I know. In a moment we’ve captured what pubs are about: introducing strangers, great staff and the ease of conversation. I plan to join their gin club, try a taster tray, return on a cold night to see the fire lit. The Gin Palace is stuffed tight with expectation. It won’t disappoint.