Whilst London may be the spiritual home of gin and still has a fair collection of legacy buildings, none of them seem like places to actually drink gin. Maybe they’re fine for a pint of beer, a dram of whisky or even a gin-based cocktail, but a tot of gin on its own? No.
Gin drinking, unsullied by cocktails, is no longer a British thing.
To appreciate gin drinking as a culture, a visit to the Low Countries is required and what better place to visit than t-dreupelkot run by Pol in Ghent. However, it’ll take two visits to see both cultures.
A visit in the daytime, is a great chance to front-load a homemade cherry genever before a visit to the city’s museums – the final resting place for the treasures of high culture. But before you bury your head in a guide book and decide what to visit, look around you. Take in the the well-trodden wooden floors, the two old barrels for tables, the rows of different genevers behind the bar and the well-used counter with the little round man, Pol, leaning on it flicking through the newspaper.
Genever’s are poured out in the time-honoured fashion of topping up to the rim. The first sip to be taken with a slurp before picking up the glass.
It’s a chance also to appreciate something else that is rare in a busy city. Silence.
This part of the day belongs to the quiet gin drinkers. The slightly disheveled who pass the time in a dusty old armchair or propped on a bar stool in the quiet company of others, with only breaches of silence being the rustling of Pol’s newspaper or the pouring out of another tot.
For artists and social activists like Kurt Peiser, this nihilistic scene would need to be captured on paper and then thrust in the face of industrious, pious society.
A stroll into Pol’s bar in the evening is a chance to see the other gin culture.
Now it’s busy with locals and tourists, talking, gesticulating, laughing. Work is over for the workers, the tourists have duly ticked off their sights and everyone can at last have a well-earned genever.
And if the weather’s fine, you might catch Pol perched on a bench outside puffing on a cigar gazing out over the canal. It’s all part of a day’s work in gin.