Bar 1855 Gin Garden – Lisbon’s new genteel gin bar with just a hint of garden

 In Food and drink, News, Tourism, Travel

In the post-pandemic, cost-of-living, sustainable-minded world there seems to be two trends doing the rounds in leading trend-setting cities like New York or London.

One is hard seltzers, essentially an alcoholic flavoured low-calorie fizzy drink for those about town and based on a relatively low ABV using bases such as vodka and gin.
The other is the continued fascination for premium or gourmet drinks and cocktails, a touch of hedonistic decadence in an otherwise uncertain world that seems right now in the full throes of decay and hurtling towards economic if not nuclear armageddon.
Gourmet gin in its various permutations with spices and a dash of bitter liqueurs, or as part of a cocktail continues to be in vogue. Indeed, in Lisbon here hardly seems to be a lack of bars serving these drinks and one inevitably wonders how long the gin craze, which began to proliferate in Lisbon from 2017 onwards, will last?
Now there is a new gin joint in town, elegantly appointed on Rua das Flores 44 in the downhill riverside direction from Lisbon’s Praça Luís da Camões, away from the bohemian hubbub of the plethora of bars jostling together in Bairro Alto, serving cheap white brand alcohols in plastic cups to rowdy twenty-somethings spewing out and sometimes onto the pavement.
Here is all calm outside the new Bar 1855 Gin Garden, the only competition being the By the Wine bar further up the street, apart from genteel couples booking into the adjoining Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Luxury Hotel and Apartments – a successful project from entrepreneurs Roman and Chitra Stern who are behind this new bar project.
The bar’s reference to 1855 is because the building which houses it is in a neo-classical Empire style and hails from that year, although quite why it has been called the Gin Garden when no garden is apparent, apart from some pot plants dotted around here and there, and the tanqueray green walls and white tiles with botanical motifs that grace either side of several wall alcoves, is hard to initially fathom.
Then, its location is a tricky one. It is on a street parallel to the extremely busy street Rua do Alecrim noted for its loud music bars and tapas eateries; the Palacio Chiado, Couch Sports Bar and Pensão Amor being notable examples on this thoroughfare which attracts major nocturnal footfall from locals, city break tourists and digital nomads alike.
It’s also on the way to the famous Rua Cor da Rosa or ‘Pink Street’ packed with bars and eateries and teeming with the under 40s at weekends.
So is this a bar, sandwiched as it is between a famous nightlife thoroughfare and below Lisbon’s main street life centre of Bairro Alto, stuck in a kind of no man’s land to be passed by and forgotten, or perhaps will it be delightfully discovered by diners, theatre goers and night owls on their way to somewhere else?
I have been assured that the garden theme will be developed over time, perhaps some kind of indoor garden within the constraints of a relatively small space that can hold around 40 people.
I asked the developer of the concept, Pete O’ Connor, who also designed the cocktail menu, about his vision for 1855 Gin Garden. “We didn’t per say aim to create a wholly gin concept, rather a bar serving a selection of gins and cocktails with gin served with tapas within a space with a garden feel.
“The reason we went with gin is because there is a wine bar in the street and Pink Street tends to attract a lot of hen and stag party crowds. The Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Luxury Hotel and Apartments is a family hotel and the atmosphere aims to be different and more genteel”, he says pointing out that the space, which had been used for breakfasts in the morning, had been rather “dead” at other times of the day.
“I wanted to capture cocktails and gin just spoke to us because it is fresh, vibrant and flows on naturally for those who frequent wine bars”, he explained.
Pete, who has his own bespoke cocktail bar in Lisbon’s Graça neighbourhood ‘Onda’, says that the nearby wine bar By the Wine in Rua das Flores often has people queuing outside the door at weekends and hopes to capitalise on some of that trade.
The chef responsible for Martinhal’s menus, Daniel Andrade, decided on an informal tapas menu where couples or small groups of friends can enjoy and share dishes that have a variety of local cheeses, top-quality cured Iberian hams and chouriços, fish and breads with different sweet and savoury dips . There is also a picnic basket and herb trolley concept being considered which will enhance the garden vibe.
On the cocktail menu, which is fairly reasonably priced, are classics such as ‘Expresso Martini’ (€10), a new signature creation called the ‘1855 Garden Spritz’ with gin, sabugueiro flower liqueur, floral bitters, sparkling water with rosemary and sparkling wine (€8.50); ‘Smokey Ginger Sour’ with whiskey, lemon juice, egg white, ginger beer and sugar syrup (€11); and a take on the Pink Lady called ‘Fruity & Sour’ with Tanqueray Nº10, fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup, egg white and fresh raspberries (€11). And for those staying in the hotel, cocktails can be taken to the room.
“We wanted to create a space where people could have a good cocktail in a more relaxed and chic atmosphere. The Chiado is a part of Lisbon with a lot of theatres and events and our concept was to create a place where you could enjoy a contrail before going to dinner or the theatre”, explains Chita Stern, CEO of the Martinhal Group of luxury family hotels.
“During the pandemic we saw an opportunity to create a space for the evenings that was different. We still serve breakfasts and light lunches, but we have here a concept that stands out from other bars”, she adds.
On the whole this is a intimate and cosy environment with great drinks and Portuguese-influenced ‘petiscos’ or tapas served with an innovative twist, even if the garden concept is rather thin on the ground.
Had there been the space, and actually a garden, this project could have been so much more, along the lines of Lisbon’s answer to ‘O-M-Gin!’, an Indian-inspired gin garden in London. But space is tight.
My only other concern is its position; but as is the case with all hidden gems, charm, atmosphere, quality and difference will out and I hope, and have no doubt, that that the word will spread about 1855 Gin Garden, even if there isn’t one.