more research Search Results London's gin palaces, past and present - Telegraph telegraph
In the early 1800s, alluring new gin palaces emerged all over London. A renewed interest in gin is bringing this forgotten facet of London's drinking culture back to life. By John O'Ceallaigh March 21, 2013 14:36 London in the 1830s was the biggest city in the world and among the innovations that catered to its vast population was the gin palace. Shops at the time had been spruced up to entice the increasing number of locals who had a disposable income and these businesses, alluringly lit by newly arrived gas lighting and with large plate-glass windows to showcase their wares, provided inspiration for the first wave of gin palaces in the capital.
The arrival of London’s gin palaces was preceded by a growing understanding of how to make increasingly sophisticated, palatable spirits, and a desire to consume them in an agreeable setting. Up to that point, most establishments selling alcohol were gloomy, unattractive places; the introduction of gin palaces, illuminated by gaslight and with an unusually ornate exterior, was an exciting addition to the urban landscape. (That said, the palaces’ interiors didn’t mirror their external elegance – they typically contained a long bar at one end, which faced a simple open space without seating.)
Alex Werner of the Museum of London has studied the history of London’s gin palaces, places that were frequented by men of all classes, except for those from the very highest levels of society, as well as women “who sometimes were not completely respectable.” Why did gin palaces flourish in London? “Gin isn’t just a London drink – there’s a big gin tradition in Holland – but the particular style of dry gin associated with London is a gin that works very well when mixed with other things. At the time there was less illicit distilling and gin was beginning to be much improved. People were experimenting with adding different flavours and interest in the spirit’s adaptability grew.”
The dominance of gin didn’t preclude other alcoholic beverages from being consumed in London’s gin palaces – brandy and rum were available and beer and porter would be cheaper there than at a tavern, if the customer brought their own jug in with them. But dropping in for a quick ‘flash of lightning’, as a serving of gin was referred to, was a popular precursor to a night at the theatre or to prepare workers for their evening journey home. Many of London’s gin palaces were centrally located in Bloomsbury or Covent Garden; in outlying, less well-to-do areas of the city smaller gin shops served local communities.
Gin palaces eventually evolved into more sophisticated venues which might offer unusual cocktails or perhaps space for dancing. As consumers became more demanding still, the original gin palaces died out and no authentic gin palace from that era remains in London today. Modern-day drinkers, however, can still encounter their legacy in some of the capital’s pubs. If you find yourself in a 19th-century drinking den with large glass windows, mirrors, wallpapered interiors, gilding and ornate mouldings on its exterior, it’s likely the venue’s design was inspired by gin palaces.
A revival of interest in gin also means modern-day Londoners have ample opportunities to try the drink. With that being the case it’s worth doing some background research into the spirit to ensure maximum enjoyment. How can people discern that they’re drinking a quality gin? Tanqueray master distiller Tom Nichol advises: “The most expensive gins are not necessarily the best. You will be able to tell very quickly if you like it but, generally speaking, a nice aroma and a smoothness of taste are good starters. If it tastes thin and has a burn to it, avoid it.”
Quality shouldn’t be a problem if you stick to reputable venues, however. London’s exceptionally innovative cocktail scene is playing its part in the revival of interest in the spirit by serving a plethora of gin-based cocktails. The Langham Hotel increased appreciation for the spirit by opening a lavish, temporary gin palace within its Palm Court last year; new gin distilleries are opening in the city; and it’s possible to participate in master classes that examine all aspects of the drink. London’s quintessential spirit may have previously fallen from sight, but it’s now firmly back in favour.
Where to learn about and drink gin in London
Alex Werner is one of the hosts of Tanqueray’s Gin Palace, a pop-up venue open at 13 Floral Street in Covent Garden from March 27 to 28. Inspired by London’s original gin palaces and opened to mark the birthday of the brand’s founder Charles Tanqueray, the venue will serve unique seasonal cocktails created by skilled bartenders including Erik Lorincz.
Twice a month the Intercontinental hotel on Park Lane hosts its sophisticated, theatrical Gin & Jazz parties. Talented jazz musicians from throughout Europe perform on the night while guests sample from a range of 35 gins and a cocktail list inspired by the 1920s, a highpoint for gin-based cocktails.
The UK’s most extensive gin collection is found at Graphic bar in Golden Square, near Soho. Currently containing about 180 different gins, the collection is being added to constantly and should have numerous brands that even the most avid gin fan has yet to discover.
Dukes hotel in Mayfair is supposedly where Ian Fleming penned Bond’s ‘shaken, not stirred’ line, and the bar is referencing that association with its Martini Masterclass, overseen by head barman and martini expert Alessandro Palazzi. The two-hour afternoon sessions aim to teach participants everything they could possibly want to know about the martini, a mixture of gin and vermouth. It costs £95 per person.
The Ginstitute on Portobello Road, meanwhile, will immerse students in a class that covers all things gin. As well as learning about its composition and history, you’ll be able to ceate your own bespoke bottle of gin, yours to take home and the recipe of which will be kept on file so you can order it again and again. The session costs £100.
Sipsmith is behind the first gin distillery to open in London for 200 years and the good news for anyone curious about the creation of the drink is that the distillery is open for tours every Wednesday evening. Costing £12 per person, the tours begin with a welcome drink and continues with a tutored tasting of the company’s award-winning spirits.
The London Gin Club is a popular resource for anyone with an enduring passion for gin. Regular get-togethers are held in The Star at Night bar in Soho, during which guests can sample a range of over 60 premium gins. Gin-based cocktails are also a speciality, with drinks on offer including concoctions from the 1800s to modern-day gin creations.
It’s a Fuller’s pub now, but The Viaduct Tavern near St Paul’s Cathedral was originally built as a Victorian gin palace so should interest gin fans eager to imagine what an original gin palace was like. Gin isn’t a focus of the drinks menu here, but despite that the pub claims it serves the best gin and tonic in the city.
Mishkin's, "a kind-of Jewish deli" in Covent Garden makes gin a focus of its drinks menu - there are 20 varieties of gin in stock in the bar, and eight of its nine cocktails are gin-based.
Leila Houston (London, 1977) is a visual artist whose work investigates the social, political and historical aspects of a place.