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One of London’s best martinis at the Langham Artesian [Official Photo]

Where to Drink Martinis in London

Dry or dirty; straight up or with a twist; always very very cold — here’s where to find the most classic of cocktails

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Porn star martinis are firmly out of fashion and someone still might propose espresso martinis for all at 1a.m. on a Thursday — they’d be correct — but London’s bartenders and bar drinkers have moved towards simplicity in their cocktail tastes. Menus denote refined elegance citywide, and so the renewed rise of classics like martinis can be explained.

The origin of the martini is disputed. Two stories link San Francisco, Martinez, California, and the Gold Rush of the 1800s — one with the mixologist du jour Jerry Thomas, the other with an unnamed bartender — claiming the ‘Martinez’ cocktail as the origin. Italian bartender Martini di Mama di Taggia of NYC’s Knickerbocker Hotel claimed creation at the turn of the 20th century; some link it to a British Army rifle (Martini & Henry); and then there’s the theory of the marketing whiles of Martini & Rossi vermouth. Literature’s Bad Boys have also played their part in the martini’s mystique – Hemingway endorsed it; Bond drank it.

But the joy of the martini is that it’s the amuse bouche of the amuse bouche, it is there to whet the appetite. It is the eater’s drink. The correct time for a bone dry martini with a twist is before lunch, and a dirty martini or a Gibson is needed before dinner. So, here are the best martini spots in town — and, dear purists, the concept of the martini is one that has evolved, so be daring with the drinks you sip.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

The lure and lore of Rules’ cocktail bar is intimately connected to bartender Brian Silva, who established its credos, moved on for a few years, and then returned in 2018 to continue mixing bone dry, elegant, unfussily brilliant martinis for those who knew of his craft. It remains one of the most sophisticated in town.

London’s best martinis include Rules Covent Garden Rules [Official Photo]

Dukes Bar

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London’s history of the martini is inextricably linked to Dukes Bar — this where Ian Fleming came to drink martinis. Legendary bartender Alessandro Palazzi believes that the character of James Bond was about breaking rules — shaken not stirred, being a prime example — during a time when there were strict rules, including that martinis could only be an aperitif, and he encourages drinkers to follow suit. Therefore, as well as the experience of an excellent classic martini served table side, Palazzi also plays around with his drinks, serving a clever take on a Gibson made with caviar-infused vodka and sake.

London’s best martinis at Dukes Bar Dukes [Official Photo]

Three Sheets

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This small, atmospheric neighbourhood bar clocked in at #29 on the 2019 50 Best Bars’ list. This is also the best place in London to get a dry gin martini, with a twist. It is pure, glorious nectar — tip: don’t go with a friend who is prone to being late, as it’s too easy to down two, fast, and be pissed before they arrive. On their official list is an excellent earth martini, earthy flavours of beetroot, but a clean finish; the French martini is joyful, served pre-made from a wine bottle!

A martini at Three Sheets on Kingsland Road — somewhere to visit this weekend in London
A martini at Three Sheets on Kingsland Road
Three Sheets London/Instagram

The Drapers Arms

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A martini is a classic, and so is the British pub; therefore this should be a perfect combination, but is very rarely done. Owner Nick Gibson is a purist, so expect ice-cold glasses, excellent gin or vodka and a choice of dirty or a twist. This is a pub with food at its focus, hospitality as its core and a favourite amongst the restaurant industry. Drinking a martini before a roast lunch is pretty much the perfect Sunday.

thedrapersarms/Instagram

On Leroy’s drink menu it list four aperitifs, one is a dry gin martini dirty or twist. Located in the creative-cum-start-up centre of town Shoreditch, this seems like a good spot to relive the 1950s ‘martini lunch’ — without the sexsim and louche-ness. Lunching at the counter is the perfect way to enjoy martini, followed by a meal – a Michelin-starred one at that.

Cora Pearl Covent Garden

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The food is superb, and the restaurant is beautiful. Who cares about a coffee or tea to finish off a meal, go for the excellent espresso martini instead.

Tayēr + Elementary

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If there was ever a martini made for eating, for tantalising your taste buds to prep you for food, it’s Tayer and Elementary’s “one sip” martini. It is a little cup — controversial serving — of joy for those that usually go for a dirty martini, made with house vodka, martini ambrato vermouth, Una Palma fino sherry, and blue cheese with an olive, which brings a nice rounded lactic finish.

One of London’s best martinis at Tayer and Elementary Anna Sulan Masing

Coupette

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This is a cool, east London bar. but it’s also fun. With a seasonal cocktail menu and good snacks — eat cheese toasties to soak up the gin — it is a good night out with friends and a solid second date spot. But it’s best on a dark, rainy Monday night, sat at the bar or cozied up in the corner, curling up with a book to slowly sip through a couple of perfect dry martinis.

One of London’s best martinis at coupette Anna Sulan Masing

Scarfes Bar

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Named after artist Gerald Scarfe, this bar is eccentric and fun but also offers wood-panelled coziness — a hotel bar that really holds its own identity. The menu is a called the Book of Potions and is broken up into music genres, beautiful and humourous! But: set up with one of the excellent dirty martinis and enjoy the live jazz that is often on. The #MartiniMonday hashtag on Instagram has been noted, and approved.

scarfesbar/Instagram

Darby's

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This south London Irish brasserie central focus is a glorious bar with comfortable bar stools around it. It is a space built for whiling away the hours with a martini or many; the martinis are simply excellent! Bonus, the menu is superb, so start at the oyster bar — martini and a delicious morsel — then move on to dining.

American Bar

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The Savoy’s American Bar has had so much praise spritzed over it and awards shaken on it that it would, paradoxically, be easy to ignore on a list devoted to a classic cocktail. That would be a serious mistake: it makes its own martini bitters, and the style leans away from the parched dryness that so many favour, so if in search of a martini that has a bit more vermouth to it, this is a good place to go.

One of London’s best martinis at The Savoy Hotel’s American Bar American Bar at The Savoy [Official Photo]

Seed Library

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Is Seed Library a hotel bar? It skirts this definition by having a separate entrance, although it is part of One Hundred Shoreditch hotel. But for the purpose of martini drinking, it hits all the right notes — a beautiful bar to sit at, hospitable bartenders to chat to and a great selection of gins and vodkas to order from. Hotel bars are where martinis should be drunk. The sansho leaf martini is a vodka martini with a savoury, peppery, citrus twist; for gin lovers there’s the Ki No Bi Kyoto dry gin on the menu, that works perfectly for twist and dirty martinis.

Nightjar Carnaby

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The Old Street Nightjar is a well-worn favourite spot, known for music and theatrical cocktails, and its new Carnaby sibling keeps all the fun but a little more pared back. With a piano playing, or a jazz trio, this exudes old school glamour which can only be bested by a martini in hand. The accomplished bartenders can whip up a classic, but as it’s Nightjar go with the drama and order off the menu. The top pick is the Pearl, which is Gibson-esque. It is Plymouth gin and mermaid salty vodka, with a savoury vermouth and toasted popcorn rice infusion. There is also an oyster shell of savoury oyster foam on the side, in case the pour is too dry for the drinker’s taste. For a lighter touch, the Ermine has a martini feel, but is all florals and fruits in the mouth.

Two martinis in coupe glasses on a wooden table.
The Pearl and Ermine martinis at Nightjar Carnaby, with the Pearl in the foreground.
Anna Sulan Masing

Rules

London’s best martinis include Rules Covent Garden Rules [Official Photo]

The lure and lore of Rules’ cocktail bar is intimately connected to bartender Brian Silva, who established its credos, moved on for a few years, and then returned in 2018 to continue mixing bone dry, elegant, unfussily brilliant martinis for those who knew of his craft. It remains one of the most sophisticated in town.

London’s best martinis include Rules Covent Garden Rules [Official Photo]

Dukes Bar

London’s best martinis at Dukes Bar Dukes [Official Photo]

London’s history of the martini is inextricably linked to Dukes Bar — this where Ian Fleming came to drink martinis. Legendary bartender Alessandro Palazzi believes that the character of James Bond was about breaking rules — shaken not stirred, being a prime example — during a time when there were strict rules, including that martinis could only be an aperitif, and he encourages drinkers to follow suit. Therefore, as well as the experience of an excellent classic martini served table side, Palazzi also plays around with his drinks, serving a clever take on a Gibson made with caviar-infused vodka and sake.

London’s best martinis at Dukes Bar Dukes [Official Photo]

Three Sheets

A martini at Three Sheets on Kingsland Road — somewhere to visit this weekend in London
A martini at Three Sheets on Kingsland Road
Three Sheets London/Instagram

This small, atmospheric neighbourhood bar clocked in at #29 on the 2019 50 Best Bars’ list. This is also the best place in London to get a dry gin martini, with a twist. It is pure, glorious nectar — tip: don’t go with a friend who is prone to being late, as it’s too easy to down two, fast, and be pissed before they arrive. On their official list is an excellent earth martini, earthy flavours of beetroot, but a clean finish; the French martini is joyful, served pre-made from a wine bottle!

A martini at Three Sheets on Kingsland Road — somewhere to visit this weekend in London
A martini at Three Sheets on Kingsland Road
Three Sheets London/Instagram

The Drapers Arms

thedrapersarms/Instagram

A martini is a classic, and so is the British pub; therefore this should be a perfect combination, but is very rarely done. Owner Nick Gibson is a purist, so expect ice-cold glasses, excellent gin or vodka and a choice of dirty or a twist. This is a pub with food at its focus, hospitality as its core and a favourite amongst the restaurant industry. Drinking a martini before a roast lunch is pretty much the perfect Sunday.

thedrapersarms/Instagram

Leroy

On Leroy’s drink menu it list four aperitifs, one is a dry gin martini dirty or twist. Located in the creative-cum-start-up centre of town Shoreditch, this seems like a good spot to relive the 1950s ‘martini lunch’ — without the sexsim and louche-ness. Lunching at the counter is the perfect way to enjoy martini, followed by a meal – a Michelin-starred one at that.

Cora Pearl Covent Garden

The food is superb, and the restaurant is beautiful. Who cares about a coffee or tea to finish off a meal, go for the excellent espresso martini instead.

Tayēr + Elementary

One of London’s best martinis at Tayer and Elementary Anna Sulan Masing

If there was ever a martini made for eating, for tantalising your taste buds to prep you for food, it’s Tayer and Elementary’s “one sip” martini. It is a little cup — controversial serving — of joy for those that usually go for a dirty martini, made with house vodka, martini ambrato vermouth, Una Palma fino sherry, and blue cheese with an olive, which brings a nice rounded lactic finish.

One of London’s best martinis at Tayer and Elementary Anna Sulan Masing

Coupette

One of London’s best martinis at coupette Anna Sulan Masing

This is a cool, east London bar. but it’s also fun. With a seasonal cocktail menu and good snacks — eat cheese toasties to soak up the gin — it is a good night out with friends and a solid second date spot. But it’s best on a dark, rainy Monday night, sat at the bar or cozied up in the corner, curling up with a book to slowly sip through a couple of perfect dry martinis.

One of London’s best martinis at coupette Anna Sulan Masing

Scarfes Bar

scarfesbar/Instagram

Named after artist Gerald Scarfe, this bar is eccentric and fun but also offers wood-panelled coziness — a hotel bar that really holds its own identity. The menu is a called the Book of Potions and is broken up into music genres, beautiful and humourous! But: set up with one of the excellent dirty martinis and enjoy the live jazz that is often on. The #MartiniMonday hashtag on Instagram has been noted, and approved.

scarfesbar/Instagram

Darby's

This south London Irish brasserie central focus is a glorious bar with comfortable bar stools around it. It is a space built for whiling away the hours with a martini or many; the martinis are simply excellent! Bonus, the menu is superb, so start at the oyster bar — martini and a delicious morsel — then move on to dining.

American Bar

One of London’s best martinis at The Savoy Hotel’s American Bar American Bar at The Savoy [Official Photo]

The Savoy’s American Bar has had so much praise spritzed over it and awards shaken on it that it would, paradoxically, be easy to ignore on a list devoted to a classic cocktail. That would be a serious mistake: it makes its own martini bitters, and the style leans away from the parched dryness that so many favour, so if in search of a martini that has a bit more vermouth to it, this is a good place to go.

One of London’s best martinis at The Savoy Hotel’s American Bar American Bar at The Savoy [Official Photo]

Seed Library

Is Seed Library a hotel bar? It skirts this definition by having a separate entrance, although it is part of One Hundred Shoreditch hotel. But for the purpose of martini drinking, it hits all the right notes — a beautiful bar to sit at, hospitable bartenders to chat to and a great selection of gins and vodkas to order from. Hotel bars are where martinis should be drunk. The sansho leaf martini is a vodka martini with a savoury, peppery, citrus twist; for gin lovers there’s the Ki No Bi Kyoto dry gin on the menu, that works perfectly for twist and dirty martinis.

Nightjar Carnaby

Two martinis in coupe glasses on a wooden table.
The Pearl and Ermine martinis at Nightjar Carnaby, with the Pearl in the foreground.
Anna Sulan Masing

The Old Street Nightjar is a well-worn favourite spot, known for music and theatrical cocktails, and its new Carnaby sibling keeps all the fun but a little more pared back. With a piano playing, or a jazz trio, this exudes old school glamour which can only be bested by a martini in hand. The accomplished bartenders can whip up a classic, but as it’s Nightjar go with the drama and order off the menu. The top pick is the Pearl, which is Gibson-esque. It is Plymouth gin and mermaid salty vodka, with a savoury vermouth and toasted popcorn rice infusion. There is also an oyster shell of savoury oyster foam on the side, in case the pour is too dry for the drinker’s taste. For a lighter touch, the Ermine has a martini feel, but is all florals and fruits in the mouth.

Two martinis in coupe glasses on a wooden table.
The Pearl and Ermine martinis at Nightjar Carnaby, with the Pearl in the foreground.
Anna Sulan Masing

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