London’s bar scene, no longer mysterious slash laughable, is held in highest regard by the world’s bartending fraternity. These essential 15 addresses will bring the most elegant negroni, the most inventive martini, and the friendliest, funnest crowds with which to share them. These are London’s best cocktail bars.Read More
The 15 Essential London Cocktail Bars
Thirsty? Don’t order a barrel-aged anything until you’ve read this
Recently moved from Commercial Street to Hackney, Matt Whiley’s monument to sustainability through cocktails showcases the same sharpness of mind that won his cocktails at Peg and Patriot and The Whistling Shop serious acclaim. Divided into five categories based on the landscape of the British Isles, each category holds three drinks and one snack, available as a flight, if desired. Names are in the Every Cloud school; descriptions more Mr Lyan, but the unifying factor is sustainable creativity.
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2. Every Cloud
This low-light Hackney bar wins points for its menu alone, a nice counterpoint to the pretensions found elsewhere: “Tastes and looks like getting f***ed up. There is no way around this. There is no sidestepping this fact…” etc. But these canny descriptions don’t mask the inventiveness of head bartender Felix Cohen’s creations; this for the Nuclear Banana Jungle Bird, a collision of two Tiki classics. A proper bartender’s bar.
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3. Three Sheets
Max and Noel Venning have recently joined a Mayfair supergroup, but their original bar on Kingsland Road is the essential visit. A weekly-changing menu lists nine cocktails, split into threes. Three sheets, specifically. The flagship order is the ‘French 75,’ packing verjus for acidity and moscato for sweetness into a carbonated, batched iteration of the classic cocktail, served tableside from a champagne bottle. Here, it’s more a case of iterating classics than redrawing blueprints, but that doesn’t make the serves any less compelling.
4. Happiness Forgets
‘Alistair Burgess’ Hoxton basement’ might not be the one-liner to tempt a visit, but ‘great cocktails | no wallies’ probably is. A dive bar writ elegant, Happiness Forgets is another in the classics evolved school, but with an enviable flexibility: ask a bartender for a drink based on a favourite spirit or flavour, and what is delivered will be best-in-category, every time.
“Calvados. Cidre. Cocktails,” reads Coupette’s website. And although the first two Cs are definitely well represented (there’s also cheese, charcuterie and beaucoup des croque monsieurs), it’s in the last category that Coupette really shines. The brains behind it is Chris Moore, formerly of The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar, and his know-how really shows — the champagne piña colada has been deservedly lauded, but the truffled white negroni is just as much of an icon in the making. The French theme is stylishly executed: less string of onions, more bar topped with a patchwork of old centimes. Chapeau, Coupette.
6. Tayēr + Elementary
London EC1V 9BW, UK
Two bars in one. Elementary is an all day, walk-in only offering with a simple drinks list and relaxed environment at the front of the space. Tayēr is the experimental bar, more akin to a restaurant — open only in the evenings. Both bars are seasonally influenced and have surprising and fun additions to their drinks. A rhubarb highball is a highlight.
Old Compton Street has long been Soho’s naughtiest thoroughfare and, in Swift, it now has two world-class cocktail bars for the price of one. Upstairs is a sleek white space, ideal for an after-work/pre-theatre round of oysters and martinis. Downstairs is a cosy speakeasy-style basement you might slither into for the night. Swift is a joint venture between Bobby Hiddleston & Mia Johannson, who have form at London cocktail institution Callooh Callay and New York’s seminal Dead Rabbit, and Nightjar founders Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson. An ideal meeting of minds.
Lovingly modelled on Hong Kong’s mid-century drinking dens (inspiration for the decor came from Wong Kar-wai’s In The Mood for Love), it’s open until, in the owners’ words, “very late,” and feels genuinely racy. The cocktail list, like the restaurant itself, is newly revamped, with plainspeak names based on ingredients. Green bamboo and quince delivers bamboo fenjiu, pue’er tea liqueur, fresh quince and mango; plum and “coke” sour plum infused baiju, liquorice, sour plum tea, and five-spice syrup.
9. Upstairs at Rules
Rules (opened 1798!) lays claim to be London’s oldest restaurant; consequently its panelled dining rooms are replete with well-heeled tourists busying themselves with the excellent game pie. Less well known is the delightfully old-school bar upstairs, a refuge from Covent Garden and perhaps the most authentically Jeeves-ian cocktail service you’ll find in London: Among the ‘rules’: “No homemade infusions. No assortments of muddled berries. No ‘cocktail speak’. Don’t try to be clever…” Bravo.
10. Bar Américain
It’s only been open a few years, but the Bar Américain has the feel of a cocktailing institution. Located in a basement near Piccadilly Circus (and attached to the inexpensive Brasserie Zedel), it’s one of those fast-moving, high-volume places that runs like clockwork. The classics are correct, the service is brisk and courteous, and there’s usually live jazz wafting around.
11. Connaught Bar
The Connaught Bar is assuredly the classiest venue in town. Walking into its shiny black art deco interior (designed by the redoubtable David Collins) is like entering a more elegant realm, where everything shines and shimmers. Felicitously, that’s precisely the effect of Agostino Perrone’s unsurpassed Connaught Martinis, served from a trolley with bespoke bitters and Italian charm. Spendy but worth it.
12. Savoy American Bar
The American Bar, established 1889, was the first proper cocktail bar in London, the quintessential melting pot of actors, playwrights, debutantes, composers, royalty and Americans feeling Prohibition. It’s where Ada Coleman invented the Hanky-Panky, Harry Craddock concocted the Corpse Reviver #2, and Erik Lorincz, first mixed his classic Green Park (gin, lemon, basil, genius). Ask to sit at the bar, use the first edition Savoy Cocktail Book as your menu and admire the bartenders’ clipped efficiency.
The re-vamped, new version of Dandelyan Bar by Ryan Chetiyawardana. A menu based on seven ingredients, with three cocktails exploring each flavour. Or, make a cocktail choice by the cocktail map- an easy guide that also allows guests to make decisions based on their favourite glassware. Like its predecessor, this bar is rather glamorous.
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14. Hide Below
Presided over by Oskar Kinberg, who also masterminded the bar at Dabbous in Fitzrovia, the moodily lit drinking den beneath Hide serves brilliant takes on the classics: witness The Other Side (gin, sauvignon blanc and sorrel), and the Cross-Eyed Mary (vodka, olive oil, fino, tomato and spices). The only question is, why didn’t they call it Jekyll?
15. 🔶🟥🔵 A Bar with Shapes for a Name
London E2 8AX, UK
When Remy Savage was head bartender at Artesian, one of the best cocktail bars in the city, the menu was a double helix so playful it was practically a toy, and its cocktails were only allowed two ingredients. His new venture with Paul Lougrat and Maria Kontorravdis takes some of this playfulness — it’s a bar called Yellow Triangle, Red Square, Blue Circle, after all — and some of that constraint — 20 bottles turned into 15 - 16 cocktails, all of whose recipes will be put to Instagram for judgement — and alights in Dalston with one of the most compelling offers the city has seen in a very long time.