Broadly speaking, gin was born in Holland. Imbuing a grain spirit with a bevy of botanicals, juniper chief among them, was common practice in the country throughout the 16th century. It would take another 200 years for the English to popularize their own spin on the liquor, shortening its name from genever along the way.
The London dry style went on to take over the world, of course. But the Dutch remain the only people who can lord their juniper pedigree over the English. And in Amsterdam, one place in particular is trying to do just that by taking gin to lofty new heights in the land where it all began.
At Tunes Bar, the question isn’t whether or not you’re going to order a Gin & Tonic. The question is: Which one of the menu’s 40 varieties will you land on? Each offering is built around a specific brand, paired with a complementary selection of tonic and garnishing and served in a Spanish-style balloon glass.
Bar manager Sander Lucardie is charged with maximizing the pairing potential. It’s not a process he takes lightly. “Once we get a sample of a new gin, we come together with the bar crew and have a blind tasting,” he says. “Most of the time, I alone know the ingredients. Then we try to describe what we taste and what flavors are really unique or stand out.”
From there, the exercise can take a turn toward the counterintuitive. Just because you’re working in a gin with, say, hints of citrus zest doesn’t mean you necessarily want to throw lemon or orange rind into the mix.
“Sometimes the flavors are really subtle,” Lucardie says of the more delicate base spirits he prefers. “You still want to taste these subtleties after pouring.” If the gin is overtly herbal—as is the case with Bobby’s Dutch gin, he balances out those elements with spiced tonic and clove.
But as elaborate and meticulous as these preparations are, Gin & Tonics are merely a launching point here. When you’re ready for liftoff, Lucardie and his team unbutton some of the seriousness, revealing a playful side behind the drinks—it being Amsterdam and all.
“We have a Red Light Negroni, which we make with mainly Dutch ingredients,” he says. “We serve it in an actual lightbulb, which you can pour over a glass with ice. One you put the lightbulb back in its stand, it glows red.”
More than mere gimmick, the bitter classic is arranged with a slightly more botanical edge. It’s not just fun; it’s flavorful and balanced. The same can be said of the Pioneer, the first drink ever designed in collaboration with a fragrance maker.
“We combine sake and genever with black tea syrup and some lemon bitters,” he says of the drink’s foundation. “We spray a black tea perfume when we serve it at the table, so you get a really different experience of the drink.”
Craft cocktails are divided on the menu by continental influence. From Africa, the Shisa Sense is a rum-based concoction meant to evoke the aromas of smoking hookah in an outdoor Moroccan cafe. “We serve it under a dome filled with cherry tobacco,” says Lucardie. “When we release the smoke, our guests enjoy a full sensory experience.” And what would a night out in Amsterdam be without a hit of some funky tobacco?
Across the board, Tunes Bar is obsessed with the notion that a memorable bar comes equipped with a strong sense of place. Many of the drinks evoke the most notorious elements of its surrounding city. The bar’s name itself references the property that holds it.
“The Conservatorium hotel [in which the bar is located] was formerly a school for musicians, and we wanted to keep some of the old memories the building was used for,” says Lucardi. But the strongest connection between bar and space is realized through the spirit showcased here. Gin played a significant part in Amsterdam’s past, and Tunes Bar is determined to prove it will maintain a starring role in its future.