It sounds like a London lover’s wet dream, but rest assured that this new pop-up bar dedicated to our city’s signature spirit set within a traditional East End pie, mash and eel shop is very much real.
Going by the name of Peters & Co Gin Palace, it opened up quietly just over a week ago in F. Cooke’s on Broadway Market, with nothing but an A-board for branding. It’s the brainchild of gin-loving Emma Peters (hence the name) who is well known in different circles as the founder/promoter of decidedly cool all-girl(ish) gay night Twat Boutique.
We’re not sure what would have been made of such a club night when Frederick Cooke first opened this pie, mash and eel shop; F. Cooke’s is among the very oldest of its sort in London and has been on this site since 1900. That’s even older than L. Manze in Walthamstow, which recently gained a Grade II heritage listing.
Though demand for the shop’s dishes has waned as years have gone by, F. Cooke is still open and owned by the Cooke family, serving a menu that has changed only very slightly in the last century.
Something that would have been popular back in the days when the shop first opened are gin palaces. They first started to come about in the 1800s and were notable for their elaborate decoration (examples of how they looked can still be seen in many pubs across town, including the Princess Louise in Holborn and the Viaduct Tavern near St. Paul’s) as well as their stocks of gin. Given Frederick probably visited a good few venues of this sort in his time, it seems wholly appropriate that the shop he started all those years ago now turns into a gin palace once daytime pie-trading is done.
There’s not really much to suggest that you’re in a bar (or gin palace) at all, with the turning off of the main lights and reverting to candlelight being the biggest change from the shop in its daytime form. That and a back bar full of gin bottles, obviously. It's not the elaborate surrounds of gin palaces of old, that's for sure.
A picture of current shop owner Bob Cooke with an eel in his mouth looks down on us from the pale-yellow tiled walls as we take a seat at a bench alongside one of the marble-topped tables and settle into our surrounds. It’s nowhere near full on our Friday night visit, but still has a definite buzz about it; tables chat together rather than stick to their own group, and it’s clear that most people are as won-over by the history-drenched surrounds as we are.
The menu features 18 different gins, which are each available as a G&T made with Fever-Tree tonic for a decidedly reasonable £4.50-£7, depending on how premium or unusual they are. We’re also assured that the list is set to grow as the bar becomes more established. Alongside classics such as Plymouth and Hendricks, and small London productions like Sipsmith (the house gin, just £4.50), Jensen, Portobello and Sacred, there are a good few interesting American options like the rich and creamy Aviation Rye we try, or the citrussy Death’s Door.
There’s also a small selection of gin cocktails, which include among them the blackberry-laced Bob Cooke G&T Bramble made in honour of the shop owner’s hot fruit pies, and a particularly short and strong Negroni.
Emma has brought in local-sourcing specialist Tessa Christian to take care of the food offering, and she’s arranged a selection of platters that include charcuterie, chorizo and cured meats from Butcher’s Block in Peckham; chutneys and veg from Spitalfields City Farm; smoked salmon from new Balham-based Yorkston Smokehouse; and herbs foraged within the borders of Hackney. It’s fresh-flavoured, tasty stuff that knocks the socks off many a bar platter, and aren't bad value given they max out at at no more than a tenner for any of the sharing-sized combinations. We would have liked the option to have tucked into some pie and mash, though.
Although branded as a pop-up, there’s every intention that Peters & Co could go permanent; it’s currently confirmed until summer at least and runs from Thursday to Saturday only, from 7pm until midnight.
For more gin, also see our recent selection of London's Best bars... For Drinking Gin.