The atmosphere is matchless at London’s most vaunted and vaulted casual wine bar. It was established in 1890 (when Rudyard Kipling lived upstairs) and, thank goodness, hasn’t been refurbished since—look in the front window and you’ll see untouched champagne bottles intentionally left to grow furry with dust. These tight, candle-lit cellars beneath Villiers Street are wallpapered with important newspaper front pages from the mid-20th century—the Crystal Palace blaze, the death of King George VI—and the wood barrels behind the bar are filled with port on tap (a schooner is small, a beaker is larger). Everything is suffused in a mustardy ochre from more than 42,000 past evenings of indoor tobacco smoke (no longer legal). Music is not played—not that you could hear it over the din of conversation. Pick a bottle of wine (it’s affordable) from one of the binders and they’ll give you the glasses, and for a light meal, select from a marble table of English and French cheeses or a steam table of hot food. In good weather, the event expands outside along Embankment Gardens with casual alfresco fare such as barbecue and sweet potato fries. (The stone arch was built around 1625 as a palace gate on the Thames, but its mansion is long gone and the river moved 46m/150 ft. south.) Come down in mid-afternoon, well before offices let out, or you won’t secure seating.
Gordon’s Wine Bar
47 Villiers St., WC2
Our Rating Neighborhood Leicester Square Hours Mon–Sat 11am–11pm, Sun noon–10pm Transportation Tube: Charing Cross or Embankment Phone 020/7930-1408 Prices Set meals £13; cheese plates £8–£18 Cuisine Type International Web site Gordon’s Wine Bar
Map47 Villiers St., WC2 London
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.