The Spanish have lately gone crazy for gin and tonics—but these contintental cocktails aren't the old G&Ts your grandmother may have favored. In Spain, this new breed of gin and tonic is served not in a highball but in a balloon glass, which better traps the juniper scent of the gin and the syrups that many bars are adding to give the old tonic a new twist.
BCN Taste & Tradition
4210 Roseland St.
"Gin tonic (as the Spanish call it) is almost never taken as an aperitif, as it is in the UK," writes Paul Richardson in a long Conde Nast Traveller feature about the cocktail craze, "but as a postprandial copa, a night-time bar and club drink, and even, increasingly, as an accompaniment to tapas." The drink is so popular, in fact, it's quickly become known as the national drink of Spain.
It makes sense, then, that BCN Taste & Tradition would serve a mean gin and tonic (or gin tonic). The new Spanish spot in Montrose is a thoroughly continental affair from top to bottom, possessed of a sort of exuberant elegance rarely seen in new restaurants these days—restaurants in which it's often hipper to have an attitude of detachment and a deliberately casual environment that belies the decidedly non-casual menu prices. I like BCN a lot, and I've only eaten at the bar. That said, I may have a tough time getting a table in the dining room next time—not just because the place is already packed every night, but because I'd be missing out on the array of tiny snacks served with those great gin and tonics and the banter of the bartender, an older man from Cuba who was very serious about his cocktails and equally serious about service.
There are several variations of the gin and tonic on the menu here. I started with the saffron version, which was tinted a deep yellow. Dried juniper berries floated in the glass along with fat cubes of ice, and I swirled the whole concoction contentedly as I nursed it, enjoying the subtle scent of earthy saffron and bright, piney gin with each swish around the glass. Meanwhile, a plate of musky, briny Cantabrico anchovies came and went, along with a bowl of clams in a loose, garlicky tomato sauce. Marcona almonds and small bites of spicy patatas bravas came in between, the latter courtesy of the chef, Luis Roger, who briefly came out of the hectic kitchen to say hello.
My friend and I ate at the sort of leisurely pace that's often discouraged these days, either by the cacophony of deafening dining rooms or the pressure to turn tables. The clean lines and ivory tones throughout reminded me fondly of a restaurant I ate at years ago in Benidorm, all the way down to the modern Spanish food Roger is serving. From our perch at the bar, we watched the heavy flow of patrons in and out of the front door, as nattily-dressed waitstaff whisked them away to the main dining room within. We wanted for nothing all night long, our bartender anticipating every need before we could even voice them.
I was eventually convinced by the bartender to order another gin and tonic, this one a more traditional version with Fever Tree tonic and Hendricks gin. I drank it even more slowly, finishing it after my last few bites of filet mignon with a rich demiglace and sweet pearl onions. Call it the slow pace of dining, Spanish-style, or the way the ice cubes gently melted into the drink, but I felt invigorated after two cocktails rather than run down and ready for bed. I could get used to these gin and tonics. I could get very used to BCN. And if the line of people waiting for a table that night is any indication, I'm not alone. I get the feeling BCN, its gin and tonics, and its elegant, old-school aesthetic are here to stay.