The oldest coffee shop in London isn’t what you would expect. For starters, it’s named the Jamaica Wine House and not the Jamaica Coffee House. But it is actually a pub cum wine house as we will discover in a moment. It does sell coffee but no, it doesn’t sell Jamaican food or drink. Confused? Come with me.
The Jamaica Wine House is buried deep in the City of London and close to St Paul’s Cathedral. You’ll find it in the Dickensian area of Cornhill and in the (breath in) narrow St Michael’s Alley.
JAMAICA WINE HOUSE: THE FIRST COFFEE HOUSE IN LONDON
Also known as the Jampot, the Jamaica Wine House opened in 1652, making it the first coffee house in London. It was initially known as Pasqua Rosee’s Head or The Turk’s Head. Pasqua Rosee was of Greek origin and manservant to the English merchant Daniel Edwards, who in turn was a big fan of coffee and imported the strong stuff from Turkey. The pair would become co-owners of the oldest coffee house in London – even if it was the servant’s name above the door.
The original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was re-built in the 1670s and branded The Jamaica Coffee House. It would become a meeting place for merchants wanting to discuss the ups and downs of the West India trade – hence the Jamaica in the name. Slavery was also a hot topic, and it sounds like the patrons of the old coffee house did not like abolition one bit.
When Charles II came back to reign over his fair land and boozy subjects, he issued “A proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee-Houses,” but there was such a huge backlash and the proclamation didn’t stand.
The Jamaica Wine House today
Sadly, the seventeenth century building no longer exists. The current red-brick structure is Victorian, dating from 1869, at which point the Jamaica Coffee House became a pub and was re-branded the Jamaica Wine House.
Step inside this Grade II listed gem and you’ll see that it’s essentially a Victorian pub with trademark dark mahogany panelling, cosy banquettes and plenty of atmosphere. It doesn’t just ooze history, it also apparently has some friendly ghosts who have made it their home. including Jennifer and the pub dog.
Upstairs is a pub, whilst downstairs is Todd’s wine bar which serves food and drink.
These days, you’ll find plenty of City workers downing a pint at the Jamaica Wine House, together with the odd tourist or two who might stumble across the pub. On sunny days, the punters spill out onto the alleyway.
Visiting the The Jamaica Wine House
The Jamaica Wine House is open Mondays 11am to 10pm and Tuesdays to Fridays from 11am to 11pm. It is closed on weekends.
Address: St Michaels Alley, Cornhill, EC3V 9DS. Nearest tube: Bank. Website.