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September 16, 2008

A Toast to Madam Geneva

Doublecrown
The bar aside Double Crown's main dining room serves gins from Boodles to Cadenhead's Old Raj.

by Mollie Chen

These days my bar adventures seem to lead to bookstores. There was the port-based "Baltasar and Blimunda" at Death & Co. that inspired me to spend two weeks powering through Jose Saramago's beautiful, if a tad dense, novel of the same title. Working on our upcoming story about Kentucky bourbon, I dusted off my copy of The Great Gatsby--the novelist found inspiration for Jay Gatsby over bourbon and cigars at Louisville's legendary Seelbach Hotel.

Last night was no exception. Design firm AvroKo previewed its new restaurant, Double Crown, a sprawling paean to British colonialism, complete with Pimm's Cups and fried white bait (my favorite item on the menu by far). But the best part of the night was hanging out in the restaurant's sister bar, Madam Geneva, a dark and cozy space with low leather couches, black lace-like wall decorations, and a gin-based cocktail menu. Permit me a William Safire moment: the word "gin" has its origins in genevrier, which is French for juniper. During the eighteenth century, when Brits couldn't get enough of bootleg gin, they began referring to their rough, homemade versions of the spirit as "Madam Geneva."

These days gin has come along way, and Madam Geneva (the bar) is giving the spirit its due with ultra-simple cocktails: Beefeater gin is shaken with lemon, poured over crushed ice, and served with a spoonful of house-made preserves on top. The preserves will change regularly, but look for the orange cardamom--the slightly bitter orange peel and aromatic spice are a nice match for the herbaceous gin. According to Brian McGrory, who is heading up the cocktail program, they're planning a long list of sipping gins and will be changing up the preserves weekly. Which leads me to the newest book on my reading list: Patrick Dillon's Gin: the Much Lamented Death of Madam Geneva.

Further reading:
* Madam Geneva's Web site
* Spirits writer Gary Regan, a.k.a. The Cocktailian, drinks with Madam Geneva
* NPR: Great American writers and their cocktails
* Catch of the Day

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