El Vino, then known as Bower and Co, was founded in 1879, not 25 years after the Bordeaux Classification of 1855, and in the intervening years has become an iconic part of the fabric of the City of London.
It was in 1879, when Queen Victoria was on the throne, and horses ruled the road, that Alfred Louis Bower started as a wine merchant on Mark Lane, in the City of London. A Tasting room was set up at the Mark Lane premises, which swiftly developed into a wine-bar, becoming a hotspot for wine lovers across the City.
The success of this venue led to the opening of a further four wine-bars in the City and West End. The Fleet Street bar, our flagship, was in fact converted from a hall of mirrors, and we maintain to this day that spending too long in there may cause you to start seeing double…!
Alfred Bower, as one of the few Free Vintners, had the distinct advantage of being able to sell wine without a licence (a law overturned in 2005). In 1915, he harnessed his ambition of becoming the Lord Mayor of London by standing to become an Alderman, but was discreetly informed that for his ambition to be fulfilled, he would have to cease trading in the City under his own name. As a result, the company name was changed in 1923 to El Vino, a name already registered as a trademark for the firm’s sherries. Alfred Bower’s hard work paid off and he became Lord Mayor between 1924 and 1925. Bower and Co, now trading as El Vino, continued to flourish.
Alfred Bower was succeeded at El Vino by his charismatic nephew Francis, who became a very well-known figure, both to the City wine trade and to the patrons of Fleet Street. His trademark was a flowered waistcoat, remembered fondly to this day by some of El Vino’s longest standing customers. It was Frank Bower who developed the philosophy upon which the El Vino business has grown – most importantly he developed the ‘house rule’ of never selling a wine he did not consider ready to drink.
Sadly Gutter Lane and Piccadilly (Swallow Street) wine bars were bombed during the Blitz, and with no bomb insurance, the rubble was subsequently sold. The Martin Lane premises survived a blast next door but had to have its side wall replaced after the war.
In the early fifties the two nephews of Frank Bower, brothers Christopher and David Mitchell, joined the business as the third generation, becoming joint Managing Directors in 1960. They guided the company through the swinging sixties and seventies until 1979, when David took up a post as a Government Minister and Christopher became sole Managing Director. Anthony opened the branch at 30 New Bridge Street in 1981.
The war years & beyond
Strong partnerships were forged with wineries in Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa and, not concerned with the big brands, the brothers continued to discover exciting and great value wines from boutique wineries.
Purchased by another family wine business, Davy’s, in 2015, El Vino remains at the heart of London’s wine trade. The combined family histories span 280 years as wine merchants and wine bar operators.
If you are interested in buying wines online for home delivery please visit Davy’s Wine Merchants where we stock all the El Vino labels and many more.