LONDON: There is no walking into Gordon’s Wine Bar. Gordon’s requires stooping. From the moment you set foot on the steps leading down to the cellar bar room, you are forced to bend your neck to get places – preferably places like the candlelit dungeon-like dining area oozing with history and romantic ambience located at the far back of the venue. Even I, 165 cm tall or small (however you choose to see it), have to curl down to save my head from roof beam-trauma.
I don’t get much further. I’ve chosen to come to Gordon’s on a Saturday night, and I can see how this decision might not have been a very well considered one. The place is what any experienced Londoner would call “incredibly, incredibly busy”, meaning that my chances of scoring a date with a table seems a long lost dream. Thankfully the bar features a quaint outdoor seating area, offering a better bet.
Before doing so, I queue up with what seems like the rest of the metropolitan for a glass of red wine. Served from charming and authentic barrels, the wine comes my way by a couple of laidback bartenders (“cap-on-backwards-laidback”) who seem to have little more on their minds than the stiletto-wearing American blonde I’m rubbing elbows with. I take a sip. It’s French, good, beautifully tempered and round in flavour. I forgive them. Sort of.
For being commonly recognised as London’s oldest wine bar, established in 1890, Gordon’s offers a temptingly fresh and upbeat food menu. From international snack plates mixed up before your eyes to casual sandwich plates and an open-air barbeque, there is surely something for everyone. I opt for a mixed snack and cheese plate – which, I am told, is slightly inconvenient. When I dare ask why, I am told that snacks have to be ordered outside and cheeses inside. This for a reason that remains a true enigma.
As I usually do what I’m told, a marathon of dish-collecting commences. As I run up and down the narrow steps trying not to tip hummus or Brie on innocent guests’ best Saturday attire, I am frantically shouted at and repeatedly told to stay out of the way. At one point, I am even graced by the utterance of a Spanish profanity that I am quite sure would not have come my way had the waiter in question known the purpose of my visit. I smile and step aside. Perhaps I also reply, ever so slightly, under my breath.
The less flattering depictions put aside, Gordon’s Wine Bar is unique. The history etched into the walls of a house that once accommodated personages such as Rudyard Kipling is palpable. The quaint atmosphere, the yellowed newspaper cuttings on the walls and worn furniture make for a relaxed atmosphere that must be experienced – though one might have to expect sharing the experience with London as a whole on given nights. Wines are of diverse provenances, bodies and rates, offering good value for any wallet. The food is decent in quality, fresh in taste and speedily served at the various bars – though one might put a big fat question mark by the point of service. Ordering outside, inside, then outside again? Am I really at an airport fast-food joint? And if your physical stamina and patience can take a night of skipping around barstools in order for the next bit of cheese to land safely on your plate, one might ask if you’re up for the occasional profanity being thrown your way by a member of staff?
Conclusion: Gordon, you may be uniquely historical. But I’m afraid you are also uniquely and deeply lacking in good service. I believe the 1890s may have outdone you, after all.
Gordon’s Wine Bar
47 Villiers St, LondonWC2N 6NE
Tube: Embankment or Charing Cross