El Vino, historically the boozer where the gossipy worlds of lawyers and hacks collided, in the glory days of Fleet Street before the presses stopped rolling, opened its doors in 1879 and remained in the ownership of its founding family until its sale to chain, Davy’s, last summer.
The sale sparked concern among stalwarts who have remained loyal to the wine bar, infamous for not allowing women at the bar until 1982 and famed for its portrayal as Rumpole of the Bailey’s haunt, Pomeroys.
Further disquiet was abroad at the start of the summer, when the bar shut for a week for a quick refurb. But fears that its quaint olde worlde character, beloved by American tourists, would be stripped away, were unfounded.
A fresh lick of paint, albeit in a colour dubbed by one punter as ‘gr-eige’, new lighting, the removal of the security bars which had covered the skylight and a spot of cleaning, have made El Vino lighter and brighter.
The lino that replaces the carpets and fools no-one into thinking it is wooden floor boards, looks cheap, and several have bemoaned the introduction of music, but the free wifi is a most welcome addition.
To retain the character, some of the old chairs embossed with the names of their former occupants including Sir Colin Cole’s, remain, but fake green leather banquets have been installed, softening the appearance of the place.
And while the walls are still adorned with traditional prints, those who pay close attention to such things, will observe the absense of the portrait of Madame Veuve Cliquot.
The manager said that the changes had received a positive reaction, and that seemed the consensus of the steady flow of patrons on a Thursday lunchtime — not all of whom would have met El Vino’s historic dress code, which dictated ties for men and skirts for women.
Two barristers who have been frequenting the joint for the last 14 years gave their verdict. The first: ‘I’ve been complaining about the two inches of bird shit covering the skylight for the last 15 years, but now it’s gone, I miss it.’
While the second described the line of spotlights facing the far wall ‘daring’ and determined that while ‘the food is better, the booze is worse’.
The menu has been changed in line with the fare on offer at all of Davy’s other establishments, with the addition of specials, and the wine list of the two outfits is being rationalised, with some old favourites set to be discontinued — though, I am assured the house Claret will remain.
A lone luncher, who happened to be a hack from Australia, and who had wanted to check it out for some time, found him self there due to problems with the trains.
His opinion: ‘I was surprised how light and airy it was, given its reputation, but that’s no bad thing. Despite the new look, it’s pretty much how I imagined it would look’.
Another huddle of lawyers, who have been going there for the last 40 years, formed the consensus that they ‘reluctantly approved’ of the facelift.
‘It could have been a lot worse and that hasn’t happened, which is a good thing.’