Merchant House of Bow Lane
13 Well Court, London
020 7332 0044
In the heart of the City, through which the wealth of British Empire freely flowed, one of the capital’s most glorious gin joints guards the gateway to East London. Merchant House, of London Bar Consultants co-founders Nate Brown and Lewis Hayes, is every East London gin lover’s go-to spot for a handcrafted cocktail starring their favourite spirit.
And it’s easy to see why: with 300 bottles of gin lining their shelves, a trip to Merchant House is a tour through what could very well be London’s biggest and best gin collection. The fact that there are also 300 bottles of delicious rum – a further cornerstone of the British Empire and Nick and Lewis’s second passion – is just an added bonus.
As Nate explains, “The history of these two spirits captured our imagination. They’re intrinsically linked to the rise of the British Empire, the result of which is all around us in the City.”
Often, gin lists this large mean at least a few mediocrities make it onto the shelves. Not so at Merchant House, Nate says, where he won’t stock a gin unless his staff can tell its story to his patrons.
“Curating a list like ours is an ongoing process,” he says. “It began by understanding the history and the process of the category as a whole. We taste everything, debate its position and decide as a team.” Bottles of particularly special gins – like 58 Gin – are available to buy in the onsite Pantry. But the cocktail list is the true jewel in Merchant House’s crown. “The cocktail list is called ‘Sense of Place’,” says Nate. “We wanted to offer up a feeling of the sheer enormity of the Empire throughout time.”
Every cocktails is painstakingly designed to evoke a particular time and place – and Nate takes no shortcuts. As he says, “Nothing irks me more than a cocktail based on ‘Covent Garden’, say, that uses French Vodka. That’s just not good enough.”
It can be a very personal affair. For example, Nate’s favourite, the David and Goliath – a moreish combination of local gin, blackberry, apple and lime – is an impeccable snapshot of the home he loves. He says, “The drink celebrates Northern Irish industry, but also some of the things I remember from my childhood.”
These incredible cocktails – and their accompanying gins – are served up in a warmly stylish environment of emerald velvet and warm wood, ideal for the long stretch of autumn nights. The effect is elegant and relaxed, simultaneously casual and refined.
“For us,” Nate says, “offering a space in which our guests can unwind and relax was very important. We want to bring a new level of hospitality to the City of London, which is why we offer only the finest gins to our discerning audience.”
But the secret to it all, Nate says, is his incredible staff. As he explains, “A happy guest and a full bar are marks of how good these guys are at what they do, how they control the energy in the room, enlighten our guests and create extraordinary drinking experiences.”