From the gin craze of the 18th century to the birth of the craft gin Renaissance, London is home to some key pieces of gin history. Hit all of the highlights with this guide.
City of London Distillery
As the first gin distillery to open in the Square Mile – or the 1-mile radius that marks the boundary of old London and the new City – the City of London Distillery is well-deserving of a stop on your tour.
A fully-functioning distillery, COLD’s location on Bride Lane is also a cracking cocktail bar. Whether you’re starting your journey off with a cocktail or ending it with a G&T, this sophisticated speakeasy is the place to go. You can also partake in one of their gin experiences, like tastings, lab experiences and good-natured distilling competitions for groups.
The 18th-century gin craze had its heart and soul in the City of London, and many of the lurid tales of drunkenness and debauchery had their end at the dock in the Old Bailey.
Make this imposing building your second stop, to get a sense of where the unfortunate gin enthusiasts of yesteryear often ended up. Through the gin craze of the 18th-century ‘drinking with’ was common parlance for ‘conspiring with’, since so many crimes were planned and stolen objects fenced in the gin houses crowding the streets of nearby slums. Many a related crime would have been tried at the Old Bailey.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
As you continue your walk, call in for a tipple or two at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on famous Fleet Street. This pub was rebuilt after the fire of London in 1666, and its patrons would have had front-row seats for the rise and fall of gin in the 18th century.
Its nooks and crannies have also played host to many a literary talent, including Mark Twain and P.G. Wodehouse. In fact, the pub is alluded to in A Tale of Two Cities, as the tome’s author, Charles Dickens, was a big fan.
St Giles In the Fields
The most infamous slum in London during the 18th-century Gin Craze was St Giles, which inspired Hogarth’s famous Gin Lane. In this neighbourhood one in five households was involved in the distillation and sale of gin – which makes sense when you realise that, by 1743, the
English were drinking the equivalent of half a pint of gin, per person, every single day. Visit the hub of the neighbourhood, the parish church, for a glimpse of how much things have changed since then.
The history of gin in London isn’t all doom and gloom, and the gin palaces of former times are a testament to the glamour and fun of our favourite spirit. End your gin jaunt through London at Princess Louise, a Victorian gin palace that glimmers as if from another time.
Sip a G&T amongst ornate tiling, heavy oak furniture, etched glass panels and glimmering chandeliers. You’ll be transported back in time.
The Gin Palace
This gorgeous bar in the Strand Palace Hotel might not be historic, but it is of interest – especially if you’ve got a craving for a gin cocktail! With more than 30 gins on their list and a comprehensive cocktail menu that also includes interesting information on the history of gin and different styles of the spirit, this is a great stop on any gin tour of London.
And, if you’re feeling particularly peckish, you can also indulge in a gin afternoon tea. This option sees tasty sandwiches and cakes served alongside exotic teas and gin cocktails.