The large, stark shell that belies Gin Palace, off Little Collins Street, has been well disguised over the last decade. A combination of velvet, dim lighting and plush seating brings words like opulent to mind, softening sharp edges and making for a roomy, basement cocktail bar.
But while the decadent design may emulate a time when the term “Gin Palace” referred to an undesirable drinking house, it’s safe to say that in this case the name is ironic enough. In fact, the luxurious location holds up well against newer, more pared-back Melbourne bars. The background music stays below conversation-killing level and is simultaneously smooth and lively. Polite, uniformed waiting staff ferry drink trays from the bar to the scattering of tables and private nooks. It makes for a swanky affair, one well suited to first or last drinks thanks to an early morning close.
Gin is, quite rightly, the focus of the extensive drinks menu. A page purely for martinis is followed by a double spread purely for the Palace’s spirited namesake. But gin-less cocktails aren’t entirely neglected and range from cooler, fruity concoctions to the perfect winter warmer: a mug of warm, spiced and buttered pear cider.