Gin has long been London’s tipple of choice. The legacy of this love affair is the Victorian gin palace. Here we list our top five gin palaces in London…
1. Argyll Arms, Oxford Circus
Built in 1742 close to Oxford Circus, parts of the Argyll are scarcely changed from late Victorian times. Look out for its impressively large mirrors, which miraculously survived the Blitz, and discover the little-altered layout with its separate drinking areas speaking of the social divides of the time: the snug areas were designed to separate the upper and lower classes. There is also spectacular wood and glasswork, rare surviving original fittings from the turn of the century.
2. Flying Horse (formerly the Tottenham), Oxford Street
One of the best-preserved pubs, and one of the best gin palaces in London, the Grade II-listed Flying Horse is the last remaining watering hole on the busy shopping mecca of Oxford Street. The pub itself dates back to at least 1790, but the current building was rebuilt in 1893 by the big-spending Baker Brothers, London’s most extravagant pub entrepreneurs of the late Victorian age, and renamed the Tottenham (it has only recently reverted to its original name).
Back then it was near a popular music hall, the influence of which can still be seen in its design. The Flemish Renaissance style exterior leads to a highly ornate interior with fine painted ceiling bosses and elaborate murals of voluptuous nymphs by Felix de Jong, the leading musical hall decorative artist of the times.
3. Viaduct Tavern, Holborn
People travel far and wide to see this stunning pub, and one of the most beautiful gin palaces in London. The Viaduct opened in 1869 near St Paul’s and still has the whiff of a gin palace about it thanks to an interior remodelling carried out between 1898 and 1900 and overseen by Arthur Dixon, a leading light in the Arts and Crafts movement. Elegantly curving around a busy corner, the interior is packed with etched glass panels and a series of large portraits representing agriculture, banking and the arts, an original Lincrusta ceiling and a cashier’s booth, where tokens would have been exchanged to buy gin or ale because the bar staff were not trusted with cash.
4. Princess Louise, Holborn
Possibly the most beautiful pub in London, a fine example of gin palaces in London, and a rich example of a Victorian public house interior from 1872, the Princess Louise was built by the top craftsmen of the day and has been recreated with outstanding authenticity. Brightly coloured fruit-shaped tiles, glasswork and gilt mirrors abound, while the original layout includes a rare example of a cubicle for private drinking at the bar. Gents should pay a visit to the splendid basement lavatory, Grade II-listed in its own right, to see the original tiled walls and fittings.
5. Punch Tavern, Fleet Street
Still one of London’s most dazzling pubs, the Punch Tavern was rebuilt in all its opulent glory between 1893 and 1897 by architects Saville and Martin, at the behest of the Baker Brothers. The extravagance is immediately apparent with the glazed tiled entrance and barrel-vaulted skylight, which leads to a bar that largely retains its original design. An abundance of features survive from the mosaic floor and cut-glass mirrors to the sumptuous tile work, ornate painted panels and pink marble bar. Don’t miss the series of original Punch and Judy themed paintings from 1897, which celebrate the fact Punch magazine was founded nearby in 1841.