Monday, 19 December 2016

The Greatest Wine Bar in Town?

God of God, light of light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb;
Very God, begotten, not created

Seasonal words, appropriately after a seasonal drink – a schooner of a very dark and rich Madeira. Why the reference to the carol? Gordon’s Wine Bar (London’s oldest wine bar, established 1890) is more like a progeny that has grown and developed, and less like an entity created by design. Situated on Villiers Street on the way down from Charing Cross railway station to Embankment tube station, one could easily miss the (now disused) somewhat tatty brown door, which until relatively recently opened to a downward leading staircase. Access now is via an alley to the side, which is also home to a file of outdoor seating.

The bar itself is dark, dingy, cramped, musty and usually extremely busy. Sound enticing? I didn’t think so. But think of being near the front of a rock concert. How would you describe that? Probably in adjectives that would make it sound like the seventh level of Hell, yet many, many people pawn their grandparents just to achieve such a thing. It’s down to the uniqueness of what’s on offer, the artistic ambience and the X-Factor, which cannot easily be defined and which is so eagerly sought by talentless buffoons for our amusement (or, more likely, avoidance) on Saturday nights.

As previously hinted, Gordon’s has this X-Factor. You can’t set out to assemble it from an identikit construction kit. You can’t buy it in and you can’t fake it. This is something that has matured over the last 126 years, rounding off the tannins and mellowing the sharpness, and yes, there is bricking around the edges. In every sense. In a building that has known occupants including Samuel Pepys and Rudyard Kipling, the odd ooze of charisma should not be unexpected. The fact the current owner (Mr Gordon) is unrelated to its founder (also Mr Gordon) is just a pleasing twist and a reminder that there is a titbit of interest around every corner, and corners there are aplenty.

At least part of the reason for the success of this place must be that they have stuck to their guns. The only drink they sell is wine, including fortified varieties. No selling out to meet the latest here today, gone tomorrow fad, just a steadfast commitment to what they know best. So come prepared, come quickly, and, definitely do, come all ye faithful.

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