The Cocktail Lovers select ten of London’s best cocktail bars, for those searching for something a bit different.
There’s a cocktail bar for every mood in London but with so much choice deciding where to go can be confusing. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to impress a date, experiment with gastro-mixology or to drink in the views, take your pick from our selection of London’s best cocktail-sipping experiences below.
Best for views: Paramount
There are plenty of bars offering pretty good views over London but Paramount is one of our favourites. Why? It’s chic in an inclusive way – making you feel posh without being intimidating. Your experience starts at ground level. After checking in with the reception staff, you step into the lift and after a few ear-popping moments you’re up to the 32st floor. The first thing you notice is the dramatic hand-crafted, copper bar in the centre of the room. Designed by Tom Dixon, it’s every inch the showstopper. Then there’s that breathtaking vista. However cool you think you may think you are, it’s unlikely you’ll fail to be impressed from the views afforded from 385 feet up – even the usually dingy end of Oxford Street looks impressive from a height.
Top tip: Don’t leave without heading up to the Viewing Gallery and Bar on the 33rd floor; it’s not as bustling as the main bar area below but you do get whopping 360 degree views.
Top tipple: Dakers Last Words (Bombay Sapphire gin infused with rosemary and Yellow Chartreuse and shaken with yellow and pink citrus, all garnished with an Absinthe-flamed rosemary stick).
Average price: £11-£14.
Address: 101-103 New Oxford Street, WC1A 1DD. T: 020 7420 2900.
Open: Mon-Wed 8am-1.30am; Thurs & Fri 8am-2.30am; Sat 11.30am-2.30am; Sun noon-4pm.
Best for non-alcoholic cocktails: Long Bar at The Sanderson
Gone are the days when anyone seeking out non-alcoholic drinks had to contend with fruit juice out of a carton or boring old lemonade. Most good bartenders will mix up something tasty if you ask them to park the alcohol to one side but some, like the Long Bar at The Sanderson hotel, make a point of featuring imaginative non-alcoholic choices on their menus. Listed in the drinks menu in a special ‘On the Wagon’ section, the four fruit/herb concoctions are nicely balanced and won’t leave you feeling like you’ve been overlooked in the creativity department. The venue gets top marks for cocktail presentation and stylish setting as well.
Top tip: If it’s the calories you’re avoiding rather than the spirits themselves, check out the Skinny Cocktails section with five drinks ranging from 134-150 calories each.
Top tipple: Lychee Lemonade (fresh lemongrass and ginger stirred with pressed lychees and lime juice).
Average price: ‘On the Wagon’ cocktails priced at £7.
Address: 50 Berners Street, W1T 3NG. T: 020 7300 5588.
Open: Mon-Sat 11am-3am; Sun noon-midnight.
Best for English eccentricity: Zetter Townhouse bar
It’s hard not to fall in love with the Zetter Townhouse bar. It’s like visiting our favourite delightfully dotty aunt and kicking back in her front room. There are quirky touches everywhere: a life-sized stuffed kangaroo here, decorative china plates there, plus more books, paintings and cushions than you can shake a stick at.
The stylish mishmash and comfy upholstered sofas make for a warmth and cosiness you won’t find in most bars; particularly ones of this calibre. Zetter Townhouse Bar recently picked up the World’s Best New Cocktail Bar prize at the prestigious Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Little wonder really, every one of the dozen cocktails on Tony Conigliaro’s seasonally changing list is classically structured, consisting of an average of only three ingredients made to work hard and delight the palate with homemade cordials, tinctures or bitters.
Top tip: Be sure to have a poke around to take in all the details – even the walk to the loo is a visual delight.
Top tipple: The Master at Arms (Myers rum, port evaporation with homemade grenadine).
Average price: £8.50
Address: 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RJ. T: 020 7324 4444.
Open: Sun-Wed 7am-midnight; Thurs-Sat 7am-1am.
Best for gastro mixology: London Cocktail Club
Bacon and egg in a glass anyone? Or how about a squid ink sour? These are just two of the brilliant concoctions on the menus at the two London Cocktail Clubs owned by JJ Goodman and James Hopkins. Food is very much in focus and while there are plenty of well-priced and very imaginative bar bites to accompany your drinks, it’s the culinary cocktails that really show off the creativity of the LCC crew. For proof, consider this: Andy Mil, the head bartender, beat off 50 finalists from all corners of the globe to win the Food Matching section of the World Class Global Finals in Rio earlier this year.
Hence cocktails like the Cheese and Pineapple Martini and the Oyster Bomb and sweet liquid treats like the Chocolate Brownie, a flip made with chocolate, crème de cacao and Baileys, served with a baby brownie on the side. There’s also the Cuptail, surely the only cocktail served with a buttercream frosting? It’s not all gastro though. If you’re not quite ready for drinks that taste like dinner or dessert, there are plenty of more classic concoctions to choose from, including crowd pleasers such as the Mojito and Bellinis.
Top tip: Look out for Andy Mil mixing things up behind the bar – he’s the current World Class Best Bartender in Great Britain.
Top tipple: House Grog, a blend of five rums, port, sherry, gin and Arrack – not for the faint-hearted.
Average price: £8.
Address: 61 Goodge Street, W1T 1TL. T: 020 7580 1960 (gin palace); 224 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8EB. T: 020 7580 1960 (rum parlour).
Open: Mon-Fri 4.30pm-midnight; Sat 5pm-midnight.
Best for romance: Beaufort Bar
Sleek, chic and discreet, the opulent Beaufort Bar is top of the list for anyone looking for the perfect spot to impress a date. The Art Deco setting couldn’t be any sexier – think smouldering black lacquer, burnished gold alcoves, velvet upholstery and the kind of low-lighting that shows everyone off to best effect.
Although it takes second billing to the American Bar upstairs, the Beaufort Bar is a star in its own right – not only in the looks department but in the fact it occupies the former cabaret stage where late greats such as George Gerschwin and Frank Sinatra once performed. The drinks are equally glam. Served in stunning, long-stemmed crystal glassware that make you feel like a movie star before you’ve even taken a sip, they’re the perfect vessels for the extensive choice of champagnes or sparkling cocktails.
Top tip: True to tradition there’s nightly entertainment on offer so ensure you arrive in time to see the performers (or avoid them, depending on your preference).
Top tipple: Encantador (Bacardi Superior, Aperol, Eau de Framboise, pressed lemon and vanilla).
Average price: £14.50.
Address: The Savoy, Strand, WC2R 0EU. T: 020 7836 4343.
Open: Mon-Sat 5pm-1am; Sun 2.30pm-6.30pm.
Best for Speakeasy style: Evans & Peel Detective Agency
Speakeasies have become so common in London that most have lost the requisite mystique. Not so Evans & Peel. Make an appointment (only bookings allowed), then when you arrive at the address (in an unassuming spot just off Earls Court Road), press the buzzer and await instructions.
If your name is on the list you’ll be granted access to the detective’s office in the basement. Then, after the briefest of interrogations, the bookshelf in the middle of the room opens to reveal a world where draught ale is dispensed from a radiator, bottles of champagne are disguised in brown paper bags and classic cocktails are served with a 1920s American-style twist.
The décor is as clandestine as you’d expect. Dim lighting, bare brick walls, a crackly retro soundtrack and tables made from reconditioned scaffolding boards are all present. Together it all makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time and into a naughty secret.
Top tip: Order a few of the small plates to go with your cocktails – most of which have a touch of smoke added by the in-house smoker.
Top tipple: The Hop, Skip and a Jump (Martell VS, lemon sugar, Pale Ale reduction, honey, egg white and orange bitters)
Average price: £9.50
Address: 310c Earls Court Road, SW5 9BA. T: 020 7373 3573.
Open: Tues-Fri 7pm-midnight; Fri & Sat 5pm-12.30am.
Best for history buffs: Rules
If you like history, you’ll adore Rules. Established by Thomas Rule in 1798 it’s one of those places that every historical figure seems to have frequented. Charles Dickens, H.G Wells, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Joan Collins, you name them – they’ve all popped in for the traditional British dishes served in the ground floor restaurant, while the upstairs bar is a former private room where Edward VII used to entertain his mistress Lillie Langtry.
If you like your bars light and streamlined, forget it, Rules is of the swirly patterned carpet, dark wood and red upholstery brigade. And that’s part of its appeal. Perch at one of the dainty tables dotted around the room (bagsy the table by the fireplace as the autumn nights start drawing in) or better still, try to get one of the few stools at the bar and watch as the Rules crew mix up one of their exceptional classic cocktails.
Top tip: You can order food off the menu but if you don’t, no worries, you’ll be offered a plate of delicious Stilton to accompany your drinks.
Top tipple: Ask bar manager Chris Lacey to make you a Sazerac – it’s his favourite drink and one he excels at.
Average price: £12.95.
Address: 35 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7LB. T: 020 7836 5314.
Open: Mon-Sat noon-11.30pm; Sun noon-10.30pm.
Best for quirky elegance: Artesian
If you know your interior designers, we have two words for you: David Collins. This design team don’t do ‘plain’; theirs is a world of 100 per cent five-star luxury. Despite the opulent Chinoiserie, smart-as-you-like lilac leather seating and show-stopping mirrored pagoda bar, Artesian has a playful side to it, thanks largely to award-winning bar manager Alex Kratena and his team – they’re serious about their drinks but they don’t take themselves too seriously.
For proof look no further than the Twisted Disco section of the menu. The Sex on the Beach, Pina Colada (made in a Slush Puppy machine no less) and Blue Lagoon (with tapioca pearls for bubble tea lovers) are fun but extremely tasty. Along with the classics, there’s a fabulous selection of originals such as the Spontaneity combining Tanqueray gin, Velvet Falernum, fresh lime, aperilla, bitters and finished with a drizzle of sesame oil.
Top tip: Rum is the speciality spirit, so try one of the dozen rum-based cocktails.
Top tipple: The Langham Martini (Tanqueray No TEN gin, crystal-clear ice and your choice of five specially made vermouths inspired by fashion capitals. It comes served in a detachable bespoke silver vessel that’s designed to keep your Martini cold to the last drop.)
Average price: £15.
Address: The Langham Hotel, 1c Portland Place, W1B 1JA. T: 020 7636 1000.
Open: Mon-Sat noon-2am; Sun noon-midnight.
Best for entertainment: Nightjar
Enjoying a great cocktail isn’t just about the drink, but rather about the drinking experience as a whole. At Nightjar the promise of live jazz isn’t an afterthought (as is often the case in many venues) but is actually an integral part of the whole experience with drinks and music going hand in hand. So while the drinks menu is divided up into Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Post-War and Nightjar Signatures, the music on offer on most nights specialises in Golden Age jazz from the 1920s to 1940s. Moreover, they go all out to offer variety, including New Orleans, Blues and Latin. The underground interior is stylish, dark and intimate and this, along with the fact that they employ a table service policy, delivers a feeling of old-school charm. It avoids being overly refined or stuffy though, perhaps thanks to its hip location on the edge of Shoreditch. Sit back and spend the whole evening there.
Top tip: The sound is good wherever you’re seated but to really get up close and personal with the performers make a reservation and request a table at the front of the ‘stage’.
Top tipple: The Millionaire (Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, Grand Marnier, absinthe, Nightjar grenadine, duck egg white, lime juice and nutmeg).
Average price: £10.
Address: 129 City Road, EC1V 1JB. T: 020 7253 4101.
Open: Sun-Wed 6pm-1am; Thurs-Sat 6pm-3am.
Best for party people: Callooh Callay
Everything about this Shoreditch hotspot says good times – from the name of the bar (it’s taken from Lewis Carroll’s nonsense rhyme), through to the old-school cassette tapes decorating the walls of the toilets. The oversized wardrobe in the main bar at the front of the building is the clincher though – walk through it and you’re in another play area, containing a lounge and the Jubjub Room reserved for members. It’s a young crowd but if you’ve got the right attitude you won’t feel out of place. Particularly if you’re into innovative cocktails.
Not for nothing did the team pick up the World’s Best Cocktail Menu prize at this year’s Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail; the drinks have an irreverent about them, that goes for everything from the Marmaggedon (Ocho Reposado tequila, fresh lime juice, agave syrup, topped with beer and rimmed with Marmite) to the Just Bee Good To Me (42 Below Manuka vodka, pineapple, Cointreau, lemon juice, jasmine tea syrup, Prosecco). Fun, creative and tasty in equal parts.
Top tip: Go with a group and order the popular If You Don’t Gnome Me By Now (gin, lemongrass, fresh lemon, elderflower and Prosecco), served in a delightfully kitsch garden gnome punch bowl, £55.
Top tipple: Anise & Nephew (Wray & Nephew rum, Velvet Falernum, fresh pineapple and lime juice with Pernod absinthe).
Average price: £8.50
Address: 65 Rivington Street, EC2A 3AY. T: 020 7739 4781.
Open: Sun-Wed 6pm-midnight; Thurs-Sat 6pm-1am.
This article by The Cocktail Lovers originally appeared in The Telegraph Online 12 September 2012