The best gin bars in London

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Londoners are drinking gin like it’s going out of fashion. Which it did for a bit, around the 1980s. But now it’s back with a vengeance. The spirit has a long history, much of it disreputable, and some of the best bars in London are having fun rummaging in the vintage dressing-up box, finding design inspiration from New York speakeasies, Parisian jazz bars and, increasingly, the sort of low-lit Victorian drinking establishment where you might have rubbed velvet-clad shoulders with Whistler or Wilde.

The original London gin palaces offered passers-by a quick fix of the drink in flamboyant surroundings. They were early adopters of new technology such as plate-glass and gas lighting, and according to Alex Werner of the Museum of London, ‘there was nothing else like them at the time. With their huge windows and gas lighting, they would have been the big new thing of their era — ­a little like the Apple Store on Regent Street today. All classes would have gone, apart from the higher echelons; although they probably attracted a few adventurous gentlemen in search of a lady.’

Here Rick Jordan susses out London’s best gin bars right now.

  • The best gin bars in London

    Mr Fogg’s Tavern, Covent Garden

    Treasure-filled gin parlour for 19th-century explorers

    Behind the scenes

    From the moment you ring the bell at Mr Fogg’s Tavern, there’s no going back — other than in time, to the 19th century. Mr Phileas J Fogg’s beloved Aunt Gertrude’s final will and testament requested that her two-storey West End estate become a drinking den. The downstairs was to be a jovial tavern for housekeeper Fanny McGee and upstairs a grand gin parlour (no strumpets or vagabonds), one of the best gin bars in London. This is the imaginary tale created as the inspiration for the second bar, in Covent Garden, from the guys behind Mr Fogg’s Residence in Mayfair.

    Drink

    The downstairs tavern is packed with a lively crowd drinking craft ale with homemade pies. Climb the rickety stairwell to find Fanny McGee, in all her finery, welcoming guests at the door of the gin parlour. This place feels like the kind of refined Victorian drawing room that Mr Fogg and his companions would have retired to: dim lighting, plush seating, wood-panelled walls, chandeliers, velvet curtains, taxidermy and shelves of curios. Did you know that there are 1.6million different ways to drink gin and tonic? Here, garnished with everything from wild gooseberries and sprigs of rosemary to peppercorn and cumquats.

    Bar snacks

    Fogg’s cook Mrs Grove rustles up plates of Scottish smoked salmon, heavenly roast potatoes in beef dripping, a juicy steak sandwich and sticky figs with a mountain of goat’s cheese.

    Highlight

    The Capulets vs Montagues (rum, pineapple, lemon, mint, bitters and nutmeg) arrives in a cloud of smoke and perfume.

    By Amanda Valmorbida

    Address: Mr Fogg’s Tavern, 58 St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2


    Telephone: +44 20 7581 3992


    Website: mr-foggs.com

  • The best gin bars in London

    Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar

    Named after the 18th-century satirist, this bar opened on the South Bank and offers a Gin Hour every weekday (5-6pm Monday — Friday, £5). London Marriott Hotel County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 (+44 20 7902 8000; gillrays.com).

  • The best gin bars in London

    Martini Masterclass at Dukes

    The place, famously, where regular Ian Fleming is said to have written Bond’s ‘shaken not stirred’ line and invented the Vesper Martini. Head barman Alessandro Palazzi is generally acknowledged to make the best martini in town, mixed with a dash of theatre from a table-side trolley. Plus they do a Gin and Tea: Afternoon Tea for Two, which features a gin-infused tea made with tonic syrup. St. James’s Place, London SW1 (++44 20 7491 4840; dukeshotel.com); £38 per person for afternoon tea.

  • The best gin bars in London

    The Graphic Gin Social at Graphic

    This modern Golden Square bar stocks an incredible range of 305 gins. Keep an eye on the website, as the Graphic Gin Social is held on the first Monday of each month, each one focusing on a different gin of the month, with complimentary tastings. Graphic, 4 Golden Square, London W1 (+44 20 7287 9241; graphicbar.com).

  • The best gin bars in London

    The Ginstitute at The Distillery

    The Ginstitute is where Jake F Burger holds well-researched classes on the subject. Lubricated by several glasses of Tom Collins, students learn about the history, the botanicals used to flavour gin, and create their own blend to take away in a personally signed bottle. The Distillery at 186 Portobello Road, London W1 1LA (+44 20 3034 2234, theginstitute.com) ; £120 per person.

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