If you’ve been paying attention to the spirit world in the past couple of years, you won’t have been able to miss the fact that gin is having a revival, and nowhere more so than in London.
Sure, Grey Goose is doing a sterling job of keeping the vodka-mix crowd happy (despite the fact that the drink actually reached its peak of cool around the same time the cosmopolitan was enjoying its heyday – shortly after the last episode of Sex and City aired on HBO circa 2004) but gin is where it’s really at.
With a brief stop in London scheduled within the next week and a longer visit in August, it is the first time in quite a few years I will be back in the city for “summer”. And there’s nothing I love more on a cold, grey, summer’s afternoon, than sipping gin cocktails under a rain brolly in the great outdoors.
This summer, I’m pretty excited about sampling the new gin flavours that have come on the market since I left the city a few years ago, as well as trying out some iconic London gin bars old and new along the way.
The Best Places to Drink Gin in London
In my humble opinion, here are the best places to drink gin in London (and the places that I want to try (or re-try) during my short return to the city).
New Age Gin Palaces & Modern Speakeasies
They’re gin palaces, but not as the Victorian’s knew them. The wonder of the recent gin renaissance is that they have prompted a new breed of gin palaces to pop up around the city.
Coupled with inspiration from the Prohibition (ban on alcohol) in the USA in the 1920’s, London’s bar scene has gone underground, behind concealed doorways and down darkened alleys.
Here are a couple of new gin palaces and speakeasies I want to check out.
As the first new gin palace to hit London’s streets in more than 100 years, WSWS was definitely a trend setter. Aiming for a style that combines just enough faux Victorian squalor with 21st century glam, I think I’d need a month (and an extra liver) to work my way through the cocktails on the menu.
Location: 63 Worship Street (duh!).
The speakeasy trend is raging at PURL. Bought to you by the same creative minds behind WSWS, the bar is located in under-the-road arches. Although the seating is in booths to create a distinct prohibition feel, aromas, foams and fogs come with some of the cocktails serving a healthy reminder of which decade you’re really drinking in.
Location: 50 Blandford Street.
Head to Chinatown, find a nondescript door and knock three times…ok, the knock might not be necessary, but the rest is an accurate reflection of the nothingness that defines the fascia of this bar. If you’re going with a group, be prepared to book online and in small numbers. The time I tried to book for eight people on a Saturday evening, I was politely declined because I was booking for too many. And that’s a shame, but I could have been tempted to splash out on a martini containing 1950’s vintage gin (though some saving would have been required).
Location: 13A Gerrard Street.
Good Old Fashioned Gin Palaces
Photo by: Ewan-M.
Of course, we can’t forget that London has an infamous past with the gin-craze sweeping the city and the nation during the Victorian era. Wonderfully, a number of these old gin palaces still exist. Three particularly good ones to try are:
All dark wood and gold gilding I would love to hear the stories the walls could tell in this establishment if they could talk.
Location: 208 High Holborn.
You can comfortably bounce from church bench to bar with the location of the Viaduct Tavern, which is near St Paul’s Cathedral. The bar was once a debtor’s jail as well as an old gin palace (though sadly never at the same time). Check out the gin token booth behind the bar which the distrusting Victorian landlady installed to stop her staff from stealing.
Location: 128 Newgate Street.
I’m partially reluctant to blog about this bar, which is one of my favourites in Central London, but it’s not like the secret isn’t already out amongst Londoners. Tucked away from but incredibly close to super touristy Leicester Square, The Salisbury is a rare find (in this locations) that has decent priced booze and great food. As if that were not reason enough to visit, the etched glass, dark wood and grand gin palace interior make for very dramatic surroundings. If you do visit and enjoy The Salisbury, please don’t tell too many people – it’s hard enough to get a spot at the bar as it is.
Location: 90 St Martin’s Lane.
London’s High-End Hotel Bars
I would have been disappointed if London’s high-end hotels had let the gin renaissance pass them by, but fortunately they haven’t.
Here are a couple of recommendations for places to stagger from bar to bed.
Gin and gin cocktails were a focus of this hotel when it underwent a recent refurbishment. As well as local gins, there is an extensive range of international brands, too.
Location: Cadogan Place.
Palm Court is traditionally a place where you might take afternoon tea, but stumble into the same space on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening between 7 p.m. and midnight and you’re going to get more than a hit of Twinings as the place is transformed into a gin palace style drinking den.
Location: 1C Portland Place.
If you’re looking for something a little different, try any (or all) of the following.
What’s impressive about Sipsmith Independent Distillers is that they have installed the first copper gin distillery in London in over 200 years. The kit is cutely named ‘Prudence’ and the best news is that you can slip behind the ‘blue door of hope’ and take a tour to see what goes on there.
Location: 27 Nasmyth Street.
I love this bar for its name alone but there is more to the Ginstitute than its nomenclature. Book a tasting session with Mr J F Burger and he will take you through the history of the spirit before getting into the detail of tasting and, ultimately, blending your own batch of gin, the recipe of which is kept on file for you to re-order in the future. Hic!
Location: 171 Portobello Road.
If you’re feeling lazy or want to DIY your gin ‘tour/tasting’, then pull up a chair at Graphic Bar…but be early, there are 180 gins (the UK’s largest collection of gin brands) to choose from.
Location: 4 Golden Square.
New Gin Brands
Sure, the gin fiends amongst us are familiar with the usual brands of Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire and, my personal favourite, Hendricks (perfect with a slice or two of cucumber and a slug of St Germain elderflower liqueur), but there are a number of more inventive gins out there, most of which are currently only available in the UK.
This article on Billionaire.com (no, you don’t need to be one to enjoy them) has a good summary of the latest brands. The one’s I’m keen to taste are:
Edgerton Pink Gin -It’s pink – tick. It is gin – tick. It leans towards the exotic with a Mexican herb, damiana – tick, tick, tick.
Hoxtons – it claims to be the most distinctive gin in THE WORLD – the world, I tell you…but with flavours of coconut and grapefruit, that claim could well turn out to be true.
Sipsmith – Of course. I wouldn’t want Prudence’s hard effort to go unrewarded!
One might hope that this time round the nation can show some restraint. I can’t promise the same for myself.
If you’ve got any other gin drinking recommendations (in London or around the world), I’d love to hear them.
Main photo: Global Jet.