Allow me to continue with my series of deranged posts filled with images taken in London shops. A few weeks ago I posted a large number of pictures taken at the Whisky Exchange store in Covent Garden (this followed a post from last summer that featured a number of other prominent London whisky stores). And a week and a half ago I posted a large number of pictures of Paxton & Whitfield, a major London cheese shop. This week it’s back to whisky and this time I have a twofer: pictures of the London outpost of Royal Mile Whiskies in Bloomsbury and of the Vintage House in Soho.
Where the Whisky Exchange, Hedonism Wines and Berry Bros. & Rudd are, in different ways, large and imposing, Royal Mile Whiskies (in London at least; not sure what the Edinburgh mothership is like) and the Vintage House are closer to the Cadenhead’s aesthetic (again, I refer only to the London outpost): smaller, altogether less shiny, more the whisky equivalent of a small neighbourhood bookstore. Both are very friendly places to shop or browse in. Neither is quite as idiosyncratic an establishment as Cadenhead’s but on the plus side you’ll encounter far more helpful staff than I did at Cadenhead’s last summer.
Royal Mile Whiskies
3 Bloomsbury St.
I first walked past Royal Mile Whiskies before my first Whisky Exchange outing. I was walking from the Tottenham Court Road tube station to the British Museum and there it was suddenly in my path. I thought about stopping in but knew I’d not be able to leave without purchasing something, and I didn’t want to cart a bottle around a museum (if the British Museum’s airport-level security would even let me bring it in). It took me another few weeks to actually pass it with time on my hands. As it turns out, it’s not a store you need to visit with a lot of time on your hands. As I noted above, it’s not very large. And their selection is not vertiginous either. But what it lacks in visual spectacle it makes up for with a very solid collection of official releases. They do have a couple of cabinets of fuck you bottles but these are small cabinets and not very ostentatiously displayed. They also sell American whiskey, other spirits and beer: in all cases the emphasis is not on size but quality. The only slight knock against them might be that their selection of indies is a bit thin. Most whisky drinkers, however, will find what they are looking for here.
Herewith some pictures (scroll down for the Vintage House).
The Vintage House
42 Old Compton St.
The Vintage House is a little larger than Royal Mile Whiskies. And where Royal Mile Whiskies is close to the British Museum, the Vintage House is nestled among sex shops and hipster’ish restaurants in Soho. There’s nothing hipster’ish about it, however—though a lot of hipster’ish places in the UK and US spend a lot of money to try and simulate the feel this shop comes by organically by just having been around for a very long time (since the 1940s) and not having been planned by a design firm. The store feels like it probably has looked about the same for a long time now. And you could probably swap out the bottles with used books and not need to redecorate. They are affiliated with the exclusive-sounding Soho Whisky Club (entry through the shop), but the atmosphere at the store is warm and welcoming—and the average age of the staff is a bit higher than at the other whisky stores I’ve so far visited.
They have the standard releases that Royal Mile Whiskies also has but they feature far more indie bottles, and I want to say their stock has a larger percentage of indies than the Whisky Exchange store does (perhaps because they don’t have their own indie labels). They also have a large selection of wine—indeed, if you don’t go in very far you might think you were in a wine shop—as well as brandies and rum (their rum selection is quite interesting and I might go back and take a closer look at that). The selection of American whiskey is not very much more comprehensive than Royal Mile Whiskies’, though their selection of fuck you bottles is larger (as is their selection of Cuban cigars). I don’t believe I saw very much Asian whisky, but don’t trust my eye on that.
And here is the visual evidence:
It’s not much of a surprise, I suppose, that this should be true but it’s really cool how London has so many independent whisky stores—well, they’re not all dedicated whisky stores, to be accurate, but they are all stores where serious whisky drinkers can feel like they are the ones the stores aim to please. The US has a few dedicated whisky bars, sure, but no stores I’m aware of with this kind of focus, not even on bourbon (wine, yes). Of course, these are not the only types of spirits stores in London but it certainly is a pleasure to have so many of them within easy reach (and often so close to fine cheese).
Next up in this series, Berry Bros. & Rudd, once I can actually find some time to set aside for a proper browse and taste!