The business was founded by the wine merchant Alfred Bower in Mark Lane as Bower and Co. in 1879. That was on the east side of the City of London and, as the business prospered by selling imported Burgundy, claret and sherry, he opened four more wine bars, including the famous branch in Fleet Street. In 1923, the business had to change its name so that Bower could become an alderman, and so it was renamed El Vino – the Spanish name for wine. Bower then became Lord Mayor and the business continued in his family until 2015, when it was sold to the Davy chain of wine bars.
For much of its history, the bar required male customers to wear ties, and although women customers were permitted, they were not allowed to approach the bar to be served until a discrimination case was raised in 1982.