Like so many Londoners, gin was born elsewhere but found its identity in London. Since it first arrived from Holland in the 17thcentury the capital’s love of the stuff has given rise to gin riots, gin crazes, and the birth of modern gin in the form of the London dry style. Today, a new wave of bars, distilleries, brands, and drinkers are cementing this as the botanical spirit capital of the world. Here are the London spots every gin lover should visit.
The best distillery bar – East London Liquor Co.
Hit the ELLC bar at the right time and you can perch with a cocktail in your hand and watch their signature gin running off the stills in the next room. Eating sourdough pizza and drinking Negronis in a former glue factory in Bethnal Green might just be the most East London experience one can have without launching a tech start-up. As such, it is highly recommended. The prices are reasonable, the bar is a stunner, and the fennel scented batch No.2 is one of the best gins being made in London today. Despite what their logo might imply, ELLC assures us that no horses are harmed in the manufacture of its products, so vegans can join in as well.
The best selection of G&Ts – Holborn Dining Room, the Rosewood Hotel
Holborn isn’t just the place between central and east London where lawyers are stored during the week, it’s also home to the best gin selection in town. The backbar at Holborn Dining Room groans with over-500 bottles of botanically enhanced spirit, and 30 tonics to mix them with. Some back-of-a-bar-napkin calculations indicate that if you tried one combination from this liquid library every evening it would take you the better part of four years to work through them all. It’s worth ordering one of the excellent signature pies to fortify you because the next drink on your tour is a strong one.
The best Martini – Dukes
As London is a world city it seems apt that one of the best cocktails in town is an American drink mixed by an Italian bartender. From a rosewood trolley wheeled to your table, maestro Alessandro Palazzi mixes Martinis that are perfectly executed and generously proportioned. No gin lover’s tour of London would be complete without a visit to Dukes to remind yourself that a good Martini is infinitely much more than the sum of its parts. Rumour has it that Ian Fleming was a regular and that Bond’s famous cocktail preference originated at this very bar. Just don’t go ordering your drink shaken-not-stirred – nobody really does that. An honourable Martini mention goes to the American bar at the Savoy. Which just happens to be close enough for comparison if you’re so inclined and still standing.
The best vintage gin cocktails – The American Bar at the Savoy
The art deco opulence of this London institution provides the perfect backdrop for a little boozy time travelling. After you’ve compared the Savoy martini with the one you had at Dukes, of course. Head bartender Maxim Schlute and his team will mix a cocktail of your choosing with antique gin from the 1950s. Particularly recommended is the White Lady, a mid-century favourite that contains vintage gin and Cointreau, with thankfully non-antique lemon juice and egg whites. This classic sour can be pre-orderedfor £120 – a price that includes a copy of the Legendary Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book. If that sounds a little steep, versions made with modern gin start at £20. Probably time for a snooze after all that, but there’s a couple more stops worth hitting the next day.
The best morning-after gin – Little Bird, Maltby Street Market
Before you reach for a Bloody Mary, spare a thought instead for its ginnier – and therefore vastly more flavoursome – cousin The Red Snapper. Stop by the Little Bird residency on Maltby Street Ropewalk for a wit-sharpening combination of citrussy gin, spices, and vitamin-rich tomato juice. If such brunchtime fare isn’t your thing, they also serve grapefruit garnished G&Ts in handy to-go cups. Just the thing to slug while you’re choosing what to eat from the market. Little Bird gin is made just a few miles south in Peckham, so you can feel good about drinking locally.
If you’re not all junipered out by then there’s Bermondsey distillery a few doors up – home of Jensen’s gin and pioneering site in the second London gin boom – and your old pals ELLC have a bottle shop at nearby Borough Market where you can pick up a souvenir. Both great ways to cap off your tour of the gin capital of the world, but by this point it would be understandable if you just fancied a green juice.