On Thursday, The Gibson will celebrate its 10-year anniversary. For those of us who have worked there (me included) or frequented the dimly lit interior over the course of those 10 years, the anniversary comes as a relief. Reaching 10 years for any bar is part accomplishment, part luck, especially in a city where service industry turnover is always on brand.
When I worked at The Gibson in 2011-12, I would always hear stories about previous managers, employees, and cocktails; recalled in air of folklore as if those people and that energy existed in a vacuum. Stories about the initial menu designed by Derek Brown (yes, that Derek Brown), featuring drinks like the Salad Days Sour or the Tequila Orchard, made you feel like you worked somewhere special, somewhere with a clear lineage to a novel idea and painstaking execution. You would hear stories about wild nights with former manager John Harris, a genius in his own right who embodied the uncompromising creativity and “do what we want” attitude pulsing through The Gibson’s inception. Every shift—even the dreaded Wednesday shifts—felt special.
After I left, I heard stories of turmoil, of mismanagement, of a bar resting on its laurels. These were all downturns you’d expect from a bar open for this long in a market that had long since caught up to The Gibson’s originality. And for many of us who made a living of entering The Gibson at 4 p.m. and leaving at 3:30 a.m., it was no longer a place we wanted/needed to go. But last night’s pop-up with the UK’s Dandelyan, widely recognized as the best cocktail bar in the WORLD, suggests a new chapter for The Gibson; one long overdue.
The pop-up at The Gibson is a huge deal. For one, Dandelyan is not only the World’s best cocktail bar according Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards and World’s 50 Best Bars Awards, but it’s also closing in January. Owner Ryan Chetiyawardana announced in September that a new bar will open in the Dandelyan space in the Mondrian London hotel. Dandelyan could have gone anywhere on their farewell tour, but they picked The Gibson. And after tasting a bevy of cocktails last night, I’m stoked they did.
I had read prior to arriving the pop-up menu was designed around a “Modern Life of Plants” concept. I still can’t tell you what that means exactly. What I can tell you though is each drink is refined with layers of flavor spanning the gamut of sweet, sour, earthy, smoky, and dry. The Koji Hardshake—a Dandelyan classic—had a creamy zest most akin to a lemon meringue, with a faint trailing flavor of liquorice cutting through the sugary residuals of each note.
The Smokey Eyed Bandit consisting of full-bodied Oloroso sherry, leathery Bahnez Mezcal, and flowery notes from the herbal peche cordial made for drink that somehow straddled the line of heavy and light. Mezcal is usually a very commandeering ingredient in cocktails, but here it played second-fiddle to the Oloroso; lifting the savory notes of chocolate while taming its inherent sweetness.
After the Smokey Eyed Bandit, I thought I had found my favorite drink. But then I had the Do the Dougie, a drink so refreshingly bitter that the only tasting note I wrote for it was “marmalade.” By this point, I wasn’t entirely sober. The Dougie was a perfect palette cleanser with the botanical flavors of the Rinomato bianco and the spiced grapefruit creating a crisp, after dinner sensation.
While I wasn’t a big fan of the Cak Hao Flower, with its Black Rice Beefeater, absinthe, and champagne falling a bit flat for my liking, the Canon Cosmo will surely be a crowd pleaser. I’m usually not a fan of vodka-based cocktails, but the pink sour mix with hints of almond on the backend made for a complex drink that will surprise people who don’t drink cocktails. Also, it’s a bit of a looker, plush red with a dark green garnish.
Ten years is a long time, and when it comes to The Gibson, it’s hard not to feel that this moment of reinvention and newfound spirit should have happened two or three years ago. But it’s here now. The Dandelyan pop-up is a celebration of one bar ending on a high note, entering a new era in 2019 that will probably redefine the cocktail scene. For The Gibson, the pop-up is a return to form, a renewed vigor for being the bar where many of us fell in love with cocktails and the boundless possibilities of bending liquor into whatever flavor you can imagine. It’s good to have you back, dear friend.