London’s bar scene, no longer mysterious slash laughable, is held in highest regard by the world’s bartending fraternity. These essential 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 Essential London Cocktail Bars
Thirsty? Don’t order a barrel-aged anything until you’ve read this
Max and Noel Venning have expanded operations, most notably in partnership with wine bar and shop Top Cuvée, but their debut bar remains 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.
🔶🟥🔵 A Bar with Shapes for a Name
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.
“Alistair Burgess’s 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.
Tayēr + Elementary
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.
Sly Augustin’s iconic Portobello Road rum and cocktail bar has returned from severe flood damage with a vengeance. It’s tiki kitsch but carries it off with aplomb; opens the menu with non-alcoholic drinks as a fine gesture, and still offers one of London’s most extensive, imaginative rum cocktail lists with a sipping range to match.
Matthias Ingelmann’s contribution to Santiago Lastra’s hyped Mexican debut Kol continues on from predecessor Maxim Schulte: a clever cocktail menu which takes a duo of ingredients key to Lastra’s menu and fashions them into two different cocktails from a roster of classic serves. So sorrel and hops become a mezcal sour and a rum fizz, while cucumber and pine are deployed in a martini and a highball.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the menu and admire the bartenders’ clipped efficiency.
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The re-vamped, new version of Dandelyan Bar by Ryan Chetiyawardana. With a cocktail menu built around five proprietary ingredients, including a green sauce liqueur; oyster honey; and an iteration of curaçao made from pig blood, it’s another testament to Chetiyawardana’s ability to combine seriousness with sparkle.
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The second outpost for this agaveria, dedicated to serving tequilas and mezcals from all over Mexico. Larger than the Stoke Newington original, with a bottle bar downstairs and a lounge up, it’s the perfect stage for its stunning mirror margarita, which uses an acid mix in place of lime juice to create a transparent finish and also make it possible to batch and bottle the drink.
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