The Emerald Palace: How We Drank For Free in Gstaad

I fell in love with Gstaad, Switzerland the moment I set foot in it. Which, I know, is probably the most cliché thing anyone can say about a place. But seriously, the moment I saw the snowcapped mountains and twinkling lights, my body filled with excitement the way it would if I was looking at someone that I loved. It was mid-afternoon and fog covered the city, making it seem as if it was nestled in the sky.

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This was a year ago, and writing about it now seems like I’m writing about something I dreamt. My Dad lives in Zurich and we were spending ten days in Gstaad for Christmas. There’s so much I want to write– that I could write– about those ten days in that city, but it’s the fifth night that lingers in my mind as vividly as if it just happened.

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That entire trip was filled with drinking at noon and not stopping until 4 am, of laughter, of good food and too much fondue.

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But the 5th night was the night my friends Jordan, Charlie, and I went to the Palace. God, the Palace. It’s a hotel, but you wouldn’t know it was by looking at it. The Palace is one of the only family-owned hotels in all of Switzerland, which is weird because when I think of “family-owned” I wouldn’t think of a place like the Palace. When I think of family-owned, I think of quaint, humble, with a family-oriented ambiance and quiet atmosphere. None of those things could describe the Palace, at least not to me. It’s this massive, omnipresent castle nestled in the valley of a mountain top, and at night, it lights up the Promenade.

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Jordan, Charlie, and went to the local pub to pre-game that night. It was a cute, hole-in-the-wall kind of place, and cheap. We liked cheap, especially in a place like Gstaad where prices for a cocktail are no less than 20 USD. It’s the kind of city that makes NYC look like a bargain. We pounded back a shot and finished our drinks, and maybe it’s because we were buzzed but we felt a tingling excitement that lingered in the air. You know how a kid is supposed to feel when they’re on their way to Disney World? The Palace was our alcoholic Disney.

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Our cab drove up the winding road, the anticipation building, and when he stopped, two men dressed in white opened our doors and I felt transported, suddenly, into a fairytale. I keep running into these cliches but I honestly can’t think of anything else about that moment except magic.

We walked inside, and suddenly, the three of us simultaneously felt underdressed. There were men in tux’s and women in ballgowns, men in white with silver trays, and the marble floors were lined with red carpet. Red Carpet? I mean how much more fairy-tale can one place get?

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My dad told us about this nightclub called the GreenGo on the bottom floor of the Palace, and we followed the engraved arrows, down the winding staircase, until we could hear the music playing through two emerald green doors. The bouncer at the front was a little Swiss man with tufts of white hair that looked as if he’d tried to turn the snow into a toupee. We went up to him and he looked at us with narrowed eyes and said,

“The three of you?”

We nodded.

“75 francs.”

“For all three of us?” I asked.

“Each.”

My heart sank. Neither of us had even thought to bring that much money, nor did we have that much to spare. Disheartened, we nodded, our egos bruised, and headed back up the stairs.

Jordan, the kind of guy who saw the bright side of every situation, suggested that we just go to the bar, buy a drink, and enjoy ourselves a little. Charlie and I looked at each other and shrugged. I mean, we had just gotten there, right?

We sat at one of the three bars in the hotel, attracted to that one because of it’s live jazz band, and each ordered a drink. These drinks, mind you, came out to be 75 francs. Three drinks was the cost of one of us to get into the GreenGo. I couldn’t help but laugh, and neither could they.

Charlie was swept up by a drunken woman in pearls who asked him to dance and Jordan and I joked that one day we’d come back to the Green Go when we were rich and famous and buy it out for ourselves. We sipped our drinks, laughing at the thought, when I suddenly had an idea.

I looked at him, a sense of determination on my face, and said, “You know what? Fuck it. We’re here, aren’t we? Let’s go into the lounge over there and pretend we have more than 75 francs to our name.”

Jordan smiled at me, impressed, and said, “Let’s do it.”

We rescued Charlie from the drunken woman’s grasp, and walked into the lounge covered from wall to ceiling in velvet with our heads held high. I imagined in that moment that we looked like one of those cheesy teenage movies where the popular girls are walking down the hall and everything around them is in slow motion. Of course, we probably just looked a bit silly, walking in with our heads up and our steps in tune with each other. We sat down at an open table, pretending somehow like we felt we belonged.

Moments later, an older, very handsome gentleman in an all black Givenchy suit sat at the table across from us. He was the kind of guy that most definitely did fit in, with his slicked back hair and calm demeanor and he was staring right at me. His gaze wasn’t creepy or flirty, but more so intrigued. Intrigued by the three 20-something people trying so hard to belong. I saw him looking and frowned down at my drink, he mouthed “empty?” and I nodded. He feigned a look of horror and said, “Come over here.”

“Can my friends come with me?” I said.

“Of course they can.”

Jordan and Charlie smirked at me but said nothing, simply following me to the other table in silence.

His name was Karim and he was from Dubai. He asked me questions about myself, and I soon turned the conversation to my despair about the GreenGo cover.

“I’m from New York City, I’m not used to covers being that high! I would have brought more money otherwise.” I was trying to act like I had piles of cash at home or something. Karim laughed.

“Oh, well, that’s quite unfortunate. You guys belong in the Green Go. So, you’re in luck. I have a table there and when you have a table, you don’t have to pay. You come with me.”

Jordan looked at me with awe and Charlie stifled a laugh. I made a face at them and Jordan mouthed “Only you.”

Karim got up and we followed him through the hotel and back down those winding stairs. The man with the snow toupee at the door saw us and rolled his eyes as if to say “these kids again.” Karim shook his hand and said, “These lovely young people are with me.” The old man looked confused, but allowed us past the green rope much to his chagrin.

We had suddenly walked in to the real life version of Emerald City. The walls looked as if they were covered in diamonds and everything shined with green. Green lights and green chairs, the music loud and alive. The men in suits and women in gowns that we had seen earlier had shed their demeanor and were dancing feverishly under the emerald chandelier. Karim lead us to his table, where we were greeted with a bottle of Belvedere the size of my leg (I’m not even exaggerating) and a bottle of whiskey about half that size.

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“Drink, my friends, drink. Enjoy yourselves tonight.”

And we did. We danced and drank and met so many people who didn’t think of us as three college students but as friends. By 5 am, we stumbled, starry eyed, into a cab, the three of us still in awe about our night in the Emerald Palace.

Hazy, the feeling of sleep greeting my eyes, I looked out the window to see snowflakes falling upon that snowcapped city and knew that that night was one I would never be able to forget.

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