A strive to make Dublin’s best cocktails covered with a mask of secrecy, Niamh O’Regan chats to Gareth Lambe of the Vintage Cocktail Club about the perfect cocktail and creating a popular cocktail mecca in the centre of Dublin
In the heart of Dublin’s cultural quarter (Temple Bar), there is a door with three letters on it, behind which lies an ominous staircase. You are led up the staircase, and greeted by a luxurious, plush interior and are welcomed by a menu which consists of over 70 cocktails. Welcome to the Vintage Cocktail Club.
The first thing to note however, is that, despite the apparent secrecy and period décor, the VCC (as it’s often abbreviated to) is by no means modelled on the 1920’s era “speak easies” as Gareth Lambe (General Manager) is quick to correct me on; “the bars that were set up during the Prohibition were basically dirty cellars with absolutely undrinkable spirits made God knows where”.
The bar which opened in August 2012 was seen as a gap in the market by Lambe. Bars with unmarked entrances and booking requirements had been “popping up” all over the US and the UK for years, and with a positive reception, before anything of the sort opened in Dublin. But why the vintage aesthetic? Simply, it all made sense to Lambe, the location of the bar itself in Crown Alley and the timing of the opening in August 2012, was when vintage started to make a strong comeback. The key is in the detail, for people to take a bar like the VCC seriously “every little detail must be perfect”. To ensure this perfect detail, every little thing in the VCC is original, furniture, teaspoons, candelabras.
As the name may suggest, it is a cocktail bar and while there is an evening snack menu and brunch is available on the weekends, cocktails are what they’re about, you won’t find a pint, and with good reason; “I didn’t want people standing around with pints getting drunk, I wanted people to have a very unique but unpretentious experience unlike no other bar”. Thankfully this hasn’t discouraged people from the bar, “we have stayed continuously busy and at the same level since opening”, who truly gain a unique experience, both though the atmosphere created by the décor, and through the drinks themselves. The cocktail menu is designed to reflect the development and evolution of the cocktail and is divided into ten sections, starting with the 1600’s and ending in what have become the signature cocktails of the VCC. The drinks on offer are also all incredibly interesting with ingredients you may not get elsewhere, like the Cacao Nib infused Cola or the Liquorice and Coriander tincture. In what is possibly the most popular drink in the bar, one of Lambe’s own creations, “Dirty Wizard” with chili infused vodka and Gingerbread and blackcurrant liqueur, among other ingredients.
One thing you can be assured of in the VCC is the quality of your drink. With more spirits being mass produced, there is a general thought that the quality of them is going down, but a bad gin won’t be part of your drink “I’m lucky to be able to say between myself and my staff we can spot the difference”. They also make their own ingredients, from the red wine reductions to the infusions.
For those experimenting with making their own cocktails, Labe has a tip “Ask a bartender. Most bartenders would be happy to share their recipes with you”, alternatively, a good cocktail book written by a bartender, will take you far, as will just playing safe and keeping it simple. However if you’re looking to go into the bartending field as a career, while there are numerous courses where you can be trained, but the best way to get in quickly it is to “knock on a few doors and do a few free shifts to let people see you work”. All things considered however, personality is key, it is the most important skill of a bartender according to Lambe “you either have it or you don’t, I can teach you everything else”
The VCC is located Crown Alley Temple Bar, making a reservation is recommended and can be done by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (01 6753547). Bookings are for two hours, but can be extended at request and tables of 4 or more have a service charge of 10%.