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“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine…”
Now, we’re not in Casablanca, but those immortal lines spring to mind as soon as the opportunity to explore Adelaide’s top five gin bars comes up. That and ‘gin, gin, the more you win, the more you sin’. It’s fun making up drinking ditties, isn’t it?
The problem with this is, at Barossa Distilling, we fancy ourselves gin connoisseurs. Gin and tonic purists. Martini fiends. Negroni tyrants. Only one gin rickey away from dancing on tables.
So with those high standards and high expectations, a gin journey of fevered dreams and blurred limes is imagined. Where are we to go on our adventure? What will we find? Will we have the ultimate Adelaidean gin experience? We decide to start out west side, in the wilds of Hindley before moseying our way towards the east end. Join us as we count down and discover the dark beating heart of Adelaide’s top five gin bars.
1. Udaberri // 11 Leigh Street, Adelaide
Udaberri is hardly the new kid on the block anymore, but it was the kicking off point that started the small bar revolution in Adelaide, so it seems a fitting place to begin the evening. Co-owned by local hospitality stalwarts Rob Dinnen and Rowan Edwards, don’t let the Spanish name and Basque country menu fool you – these guys have an ethos of supporting local producers and championing Australian drink offerings. Pop into this seriously cool, mellow lit cavern and order yourself a classic gin and tonic. Rosemary, juniper berries and dried orange complement their fine array of top shelf gins. The friendly Irish charm of Eoghan mixing drinks behind the bar and a relaxed atmosphere of mixed clientele make for a cosy evening of people watching. Get there on a Wednesday night for a mid-week reminder on why Adelaide is doing such a roaring trade in the small bar scene.
2. Maybe Mae // 15 Peel Street, Adelaide
Do you like a mysterious opening? After you’ve had your fill at Uda, slink sideways to the secret door that tricks the eye and bamboozles the mind to reveal a rocking little joint that is hidden underneath layers of subterfuge. Maybe Mae is a venue that mae-be (pun intended) home to Adelaide’s friendliest bartenders. A hidden gem has never been more aptly described then Maybe’s. Enter through Bread & Bone Wood Grill and descend below to the trick door. (Note: a nod and a wink to the bouncer’s may help you feel less silly if you are fumbling around and pressing on walls.) The ambiance of a Prohibition-era gin den awaits. Expect expert cocktail bartenders, happy to create a classic recipe, willing to talk you through their imaginative specials. We order a Queen Vicky gin fizz (or so our slightly fuzzy memory recalls). Either way, it is delicious and a perfection of refreshment.
3. Bank Street Social // 48 Hindley Street, Adelaide
Mere metres away, spat out back onto Hindley Street, we decide to hit up Bank Street Social. A fairly recent addition to the west side, this cracking locale was named The Advertiser’s Best Small Bar of the Year for 2015 – a well deserved title. These guys are firm supporters of South Australian beer, wine, cider and spirits. Always willing to champion South Australian producers, this really shines in their wine, whiskey and, most importantly, gin. With more than 70 premium gins merrily twinkling in the back-bar, Bank Street has the envious boasting rights of one of the largest spirit collections in Adelaide. So take your time, bask in the reflected glory. Our advice? Hit them up for their premium barrel-aged cocktails – what might be described as a revolution in cocktail mastery. They have perfected the art of negroni – the king of all the gin drinks, in our humble opinion. Cards on the table, they are a stockist of our new Barossa Generations gin. So pop in and see the boys and girls behind the bar and sip our excellent concoction. While you’re there, grab a Wednesday $10 pizza special and soak up the live acoustic tunes on offer. Bliss.
4. Haines & Co // 23 Gilbert Place, Adelaide
Just a hop, skip and a jump away is Haines & Co. We skirt furtively past the Pancake Kitchen shenanigans, vowing we won’t end the night there (while secretly hoping we do) and step into another world on Gilbert Place. A whimsical, naughty nautical world. This place is faintly absurd in decor, riotously good fun, and deadly serious when it comes to quality gin. David Danby is the man in the know at Haines & Co, and distillery is his passion, creating his own in-house gin, Ounce. “We’re a very supportive industry in South Australia. It’s community spirited rather than competitive. The more attention we can gain for South Australian producers the better, so we are all very respectful and engaged with each other,” David says. “We are South Australian-proud here at Haines & Co, so I’m excited for Barossa Generations Gin to arrive, we are expecting to have it on the shelf next week.” David recommends going classic and mixing with tonic, juniper berries and a slice of your choice.
5. Howling Owl // 13 Frome Street, Adelaide
Saving the best till last, we head to the east end, tripping down Rundle Street with gay abandon. Or something. Howling Owl is the little den situated on Frome Street, adjacent to Adelaide comedy institution Rhino Room. Warmly lit and inviting, the mile-wide smiles of the staff work their magic on you as you park yourself contentedly at the tall red-river-gum table. This is THE place for gin lovers. It boasts an impressive 70+ strong list of small-batch gins from around the world. Importantly though, they are proud stockists of locally produced gins, including their own Kangaroo Island gins infused with native botanicals. A café by day, the atmosphere turns cocktail bar by night. These guys are all about supporting local, from the art on the walls to the produce on the plates – and of course, the booze in the glasses.
We hit up general manager and gin-goddess Alana Hockley for her favourite gin-based drink, and she recommends a dry martini with a citrus twist, using Barossa Generations Gin. “The citrus twist will really bring out the botanicals. I’m super excited for this, it’s such a clean taste on the palate. That’s why you should drink it in a dry martini, it really doesn't need interference. Enjoy chilled and let the flavours speak for themselves,” Alana says. Always listen to the bartenders, we say. And we are glad we did. Skilled with a perfectly chilled martini, order it as dirty or dry as you like. You won’t be disappointed.
We stumble out at closing time, tipsy and flushed with a geniality of spirit in every sense. The great gin journey is a success. A triumph of the tastebuds. A paean of perfection. A pissy pearl of an evening in the great glittering jewellery casket of Adelaide nights out. So go forth, get your gin odyssey on. Your tastebuds will thank you for it.
Have you got a favourite gin joint in Adelaide that you'd like to throw some love? Leave a comment in the section below and we will check it out!
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