All You Need To Know About Gin

let’s begin

Did you know gin palaces led to the way pubs look today?

–          Where to quaff your highballs in authentic surroundings on World Gin Day 13 June 2015 (list below)

–          Stunning historic photos of gin palaces from Historic England Archive (link below)

Far from its humble beginnings in the bawdy back streets of London, gin has become the tipple of the discerning drinker. Our relationship with this most English of drinks goes back as far as the 17thcentury and much as the drink itself has evolved, so have the places associated with it. Such was the popularity of gin, we even built palaces to drink it in. Find out where to celebrate the drink in all its juniper-scented glory on World Gin Day this Saturday – 13th June.

–          In the 18th century, gin shops or ‘dram shops’ sold gin mostly to take away.

–          It became the poor man’s drink thanks to its cheapness and some workers were even given gin as part of their wages.

–          By 1743, England was drinking 10 litres of gin per person per year. Gin drinking was considered an epidemic and was blamed for crime and social problems.

How gin palaces began

–          In 1751 new legislation was passed which raised the duty on gin and encouraged ‘respectable’ gin selling by requiring licensees to trade from premises rented for at least £10 a year. This sent gin shops into decline and encouraged an underground market.

–          In an attempt to stimulate trade, duty was cut back in 1825, and then five years later the Sale of Beer Act removed all taxes on beer, and permitted anyone to open a beer shop on payment of a two-guinea fee.

–          By 1838 45,000 beer shops had appeared and to compete, spirit retailers came up with the idea of ‘gin palaces’ to attract a new breed of customer with a disposable income.

Dawn of the bar as we know it today

–          The first gin palaces were built in the late 1820s – Thompson & Fearon’s in Holborn, and Weller’s in Old Street were designed to look more like the shops that were appearing in the fashionable districts. Gas-lit and fitted out in lavish style, the gin palace aimed to attract the crowds and to serve them as efficiently as possible

–          The “vulgar” appearance of these gin palaces caused outrage in polite society, but also had an immediate impact on the planning and design of the pubs we know today.

–          A key feature of the gin shop was the counter; it enabled swift service, separated the customer from the server and provided a surface for pouring drinks. The new gin palaces kept the counter and it eventually became the bar we see in almost every pub in the country. It was ideal for attaching beer pumps, saving on trips to the cellar.

–          The new luxurious gin palaces were hugely popular and by the 1850s there were some 5,000 in London. For the poor the gin palace offered a fantastical chance to escape from the grimness of slum dwelling.  In Sketches by Boz, Charles Dickens described gin palaces as “perfectly dazzling when contrasted with the darkness and dirt we have just left.”

–          See the transformation of the Archway Tavern, London, from tavern to gin palace in 1886 in the image gallery below.

Historic England archive images 

Where to Drink in Authentic Surroundings

Although none of the original gin palaces survive, their design inspired later Victorian pubs, even after gin had fallen from favour. The ornate mirrors, mouldings, etched glass and gilding inspired the late 19th century style, the heyday of urban pub building.

(links go to the site entry on The List (The National Heritage List for England))

The Princess Louise, Holborn 

Grade II* listed

A rich example of a Victorian public house interior. Gents should also spend a penny in the basement WC to see some of the original tiled walls and fittings.

Grade II* listed

Look out for stone sculpture of musicians and musical instruments amid the rich copper and glass interior. Another perk for the gents’ – the toilets survive in their original decorative design.

Grade II listed

Previously known as the George and Dragon, The Baker’s Vault was built around 1775 and rebuilt in the gin palace style in 1861.  It reopened in July 2014 after a seven month closure and it is hoped that the revitalised pub will bring much needed regeneration to the market area of Stockport.

Grade II listed

The fine pub interiors include a wall of alternating mirrors and fine paintings of Pre-Raphaelite style women set in marble and alabaster architraves.

Grade II* listed

Magnificently elaborate, the entrances have ornate wrought-iron screens and elaborately tiled lobbies and mosaic. The large room at the front was at one time a concert room. Sip your G&T in the large billiard room beneath the vine painted glass roof.

Grade II*

When the Tottenham was built it was located a few doors down from the Oxford Street Music Hall and there is something of the palace of varieties about its interior. One of the best-preserved pubs in London.

Grade II* listed

Although only a stone’s throw from Oxford Circus, parts of this pub are little changed from Victorian times. Particularly impressive are the large mirrors which miraculously survived the blitz.

Grade II* listed

The best example of its kind in Birmingham, the Barton Arms retains a complete suite of Public Bar, Saloon-Smoke Rooms, Club Room, Committee Room and Billiard Hall.

Grade II listed

A barrel vaulted skylight will greet you at the entrance, leading you to a bar with much of the original design. The previous building on the site was renamed the “Punch Tavern” in the late 1840s because of its association with Punch Magazine which had its offices at that end of Fleet Street.

Grade II* listed

Known locally as ‘the Big House’, this much loved local landmark has a glazed cupola, original bar fittings and two fire places.

Image by NotFromUtrecht (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tags: 13th JuneGingin palaceshistory of ginWorld Gin Day
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Rebecca is a graduate of Queen's University Belfast and very much a student of whisky, having only began appreciating it fairly recently. She studied English which gave her the best opportunities to sit down with a glass of the finest whisky and try to look sophisticated reading leather bound volumes of Shakespeare (or more likely whichever comic book she last set down).

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