Minor British Institutions: El Vino's

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The Independent Online

You don't find many journalists in El Vino's on London's Fleet Street these days, but you can almost sense the ghostly presence of exalted editors and humble hacks of decades past.

Today it is lawyers and bankers who take advantage of this most traditional and special of wine bars, which – unspoilt and unsurpassed – serves the smoothest house red in town and, more surprisingly, the best chips, too. You cannot say you know London, or indeed Britain, unless you've enjoyed a drink here.

The business dates back to 1879, when Alfred Louis Bower set himself up as a wine merchant in the City.

Branches have come and gone over the years, some removed by the Luftwaffe, but the Fleet Street branch remains the definitive one, complete with Edwardian telephone.

Until the 1970s you had to be properly attired, and male, to enter and certain tables were effectively reserved for the elite of British journalism. Things are much more easygoing now, which some of us regret.

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