There was a lot of disappointment when The Cloakroom Bar announced its closure in the spring of 2019 – partly because of the loss of the bar itself, but also the loss of the location near the corner of Edward and Elizabeth streets. The CBD is home to some great cocktail-driven bars in 2021, but most are at the city’s southwestern end. Move towards the financial district and there’s not much beyond The Gresham on Queen Street.
That will cease to be the case next week when Dr Gimlette opens in the former Metro Arts building at 109 Edward Street. From Martin Lange, Wiebke Lange, Blake Ward and Belinda Ward – the celebrated crew behind Death & Taxes – it will have a laser focus on creative cocktails that’s inspired by some of the world’s best bars such as American Bar at The Savoy in London, The Dead Rabbit in New York and Melbourne’s Black Pearl.
“Those bars have massive cocktail programs,” Martin says, “and they experiment – it’s a lot of theatre. We will have liquid nitrogen, we’ll have our Martini carts that come to your table and make Martinis in any way you want. There will be seasonal cocktails that change every month, and a 30-strong cocktail menu, and the ability to create any classics that you can think of, dating back to the 1700s.”
It feels like a long time between new venues for Martin in particular, who over a 20-month period went on a tear that saw the opening of Savile Row and Finney Isles in the Valley (he’s since sold his interest in both) and culminated in the early 2019 debut of Death & Taxes (he and Wiebke also own Cobbler in West End). But it was just months after kicking off that star Burnett Lane venue that the group first inspected Dr Gimlette’s heritage listed Edward Street site.
“Around June or July in 2019 we were showed through the building, but the idea was to take the underground space where the old Verve Cafe used to be,” Martin says. “It was too small. It was an underground restaurant and I’m six-foot-four. I wouldn’t fit in the place.”
Eight months later, a month before Covid hit, the Langes and Wards returned to inspect the old theatre space on the ground floor of the building, which had had its walls stripped back to the original brick and its floor raised.
“We loved the place as soon as we walked in. It’s a really open space. We started working on the lease but then Covid hit and you know the rest of the story. It was six months before we could do anything. It was the end of 2020 that we started getting progress done and we started building in May.”
Dr Gimlette will almost certainly be worth the wait. Cobbler and Death & Taxes are two of the best looking bars in town, and the new venue will be cut from similar materials, with plenty of raw brick and timber. There will be a nine-metre long marble-top bar, and the two Martini carts will service four large booths lined with Italian leather.
Behind the bar will be an 800-bottle strong collection of spirits to power the different cocktail lists, but Martin says the focus will lean slightly more towards pre and post-dinner drinks, rather than the late night imbibing that Death & Taxes and Cobbler are known for.
“We’re surrounded by a lot of restaurants at that end of the city,” he says. “So at aperitivo hour you can have a nice Negroni or Spritz before dinner, and afterwards an Old Fashioned or a Blazer, depending on the time of the year.”
The pandemic has inspired Dr Gimlette’s greater focus on table service but also the branding, which features a 17th-century style beak-shaped plague mask. As for the name, it’s a reference to one of the purported (and contested) origins of the Gimlet cocktail – that surgeon Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette was the first to add lime cordial to the daily gin tot of Royal Navy sailors.
“With 2020 and 2021, and the whole Covid thing, that idea really stuck with us,” Martin says, laughing.
Dr Gimlette is scheduled to open on September 7.