At Mayahuel and Cienfuegos, Ravi DeRossi enshrined tequila and rum, respectively, building bar programs to showcase the best of each spirit. Now it's gin's turn, and together with bar managers Tom Chadwick and Frank Cisneros, he's gone and tossed in a twist: this isn't just a juniper joint, it's a full-on challenge to a culture he helped create.
"The idea here is to be a little more approachable than that," he says, pointing to Death + Company (arguably his most famous, and certainly his strictest bar), just a few doors away. "You know, the sitting-only, super-civilized cocktail thing? There's too many of them. Their time has come to pass."
DeRossi had long been itching to focus on gin, and in the past 18 months it seemed the perfect spirit with which to, well, change the spirit of things: "Gin palaces were the original dive bars," he says. "Opening one right now may not be a rebellion, exactly, but it's definitely a response."
Gin Palace's design stems from historical research and the owners' affections for subtle steampunk detail. Sitting at street level, it feels like a basement rock club, its grittier edges gilded with gold wings and intricate, gear-like moulding. The drinks themselves take a similar approach to historical accuracy; they're inspired by the Victorian drinking culture, but not entombed in it.
"The cocktails are all gin-forward and flavorful, not fussy or ornate," says Chadwick. "The drinks reflect the place's democratic approach. We keep the combinations simple, bold, and a little rowdy in concept. A little rock & roll." Which isn't to say they're crafted less lovingly than at the bars that came before. Bartenders still use hand-cut ice and house-infused bitters while they're cranking out playful signatures like the Police and Thieves (Plymouth gin plus a bevy of fresh citrus and cinnamon) and White Negronis (Old Tom gin, Salers aperitif, a spine of bianco vermouth), they're just a little quicker about it. (To see one expression of the bar's need for speed, order a gin and tonic. They've got it on tap.)
"There's a place for the other style, of course, but the city's full of people who have been doing those intricate techniques for so long, they can do them at a higher volume now," says Chadwick. "They can do them at a regular bar."
Check out a few of Gin Palace's cocktails in the slideshow above, or head to the East Village to sample them yourself. No need to make a reservation or know a secret knock.