The presence of an official ‘London Cocktail Week’ is reflective of the variety, quality and talent on display in the bar scene of the UK’s capital city. From a classic Old Fashioned in a swanky uptown bar in the west-end, to a more experimental Marmite-based cocktail in an East-End speakeasy, London has literally something for everyone (over the age of 18!). And that’s just the drinks - the bars that serve them are equally as varied in decor and atmosphere. So here’s our personal top ten (in no particular order) out of the lot to help you on your next mission for a sophisticated drink in the big smoke!
69 colebrooke row
This tiny North London speakeasy bar in Islington is lead by head bartender and mixologist, Tony Conigliaro. Something of a celebrity on the scene, Conigliaro even has his own Wikipedia page referring to his various inventions. One of these is the Prairie Oyster - a delicious concoction of raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt and ground black pepper. Not for you? There are plenty less wacky yet equally inventive choices on the menu, and the classic jazz-age theme of the bar (complete with live pianist) is something to be enjoyed in it-self. A must visit!
hawksmoor - seven dials
Hawksmoor is a successful bar and restaurant chain, with five locations in the capital and one in Manchester. As far as cocktails go, the most notorious branch is possibly the basement bar-cum-restaurant waiting room in Seven Dials. The oak-panelled walls and antique library desk lamps provide the perfect atmosphere to enjoy a cocktail from the venue’s menu, which is broken down into six brilliantly named sections, including ‘Disco Drinks’ and ‘Cards and Cigars’. A real treat, especially in winter!
Around since 1999, Lab Bar in Soho has been at the forefront of London’s cocktail scene for over 15 years. The bars distinct ethos remains the same, aiming to push the boundaries of creative mixology and nurture talent within the industry (the name refers to the ‘London Academy of Bartenders’ from which the venue was founded). The passionate staff work from a menu of over 100 cocktails, but they are also always more than happy to develop something completely new in front of your eyes. Perfect for a smaller group earlier in the week, LAB bar gets a little rowdier towards the weekend, with house DJ’s providing the soundtrack.
Designed by the late great David Collins, no expense has been spared on the consistently decadent décor at the Artesian bar, and as winner of the ‘World’s Best Bar’ for three consecutive years by Drinks International, it is a highly acclaimed all-round delight. The cocktails come courtesy of the equally praised head bartender, Alex Kratena, who concocts a delectable drinks menu split into three sections: ‘Artesian Classics’, ‘Unfolding and Exploring’, and ‘Innovation’.
Starting from £13, it’s fair to say the cocktails at SushiSamba are a little on the pricey side, but you’re certainly not paying for the drinks alone – the views from this rooftop bar, sitting as it does on the 38th and 39th floors of the Heron Tower in East London, are really quite staggering. The bar offers a unique atmosphere too, with a restaurant serving an excellent modern take on Japanese and Brazilian cuisine. Plus, it’s all worth it for the dramatic lift-ride up alone...
st james bar
Right in the heart of London on the corner of Pall Mall and Waterloo Place, the five-star Sofitel London St James was once the home of Cox’s and King’s bank. Behind the stunning neoclassical façade you can now find the St Rose Lounge, perfect for afternoon tea, and the St James Bar. Inspired by Coco Chanel’s 1920’s Paris apartment, the bar offers a plush setting to enjoy vintage and signature cocktails, including those from the current spring / summer collection, also inspired by Coco Chanel.
Ingeniously side-stepping its lack of a license to store Alcohol, B.Y.O.C is a bar that invites you to bring your own bottles so that on-site master mixologist, Dan Thomson, can whip up tailored cocktails before your eyes. The catch (which really isn’t a catch – it’s very reasonable when you think about it) is that there is a £25 entrance fee to the cosy basement bar sitting beneath the ‘Juice Club’ in London’s west end. It’s a truly unique experience and a perfect way to impress a date or enjoy a slightly different night out with friends.
sky pod bar
You have to pass through airport-style security to get up to the 35th floor on the rather divisive Walkie-Talkie building, but once there you are greeted not only by a bar with incredible views of the Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral and more, but also by a pleasant range of vegetation! There’s a reason to that – this is also London’s highest rooftop garden, but the view and cocktails are the main attractions here, with clever variations on a wine cooler (‘Thyme for Tea’) and a Bloody Mary (‘Fresh Mary’) available to enjoy. Find out more!
Due to its very central location overlooking Regent Street, Aqua Spirit is well known amongst Londoners, but it can still be easily missed, given the inconspicuous and dark entrance. Take the lift up to the 5th floor however and you are consistently greeted by a buzzing bar. Frequented by suits and socialites, some may find the experience a little pretentious, but the cocktail menu, including a selection of drinks inspired by Japan, compensates nicely for any bad feelings concerning atmosphere.
golden arrow bar
Just a few minutes’ walk from St Pancras international in King’s Cross, an area which has seen dramatic redevelopment over recent years, the Golden Arrow bar at Pullman London St Pancras serves a collection of signature cocktails and over 200 whiskies. Smart and ultra-modern, the décor of the lobby bar remains warm thanks to the soft lighting and chic interiors, while the superb staff reinforce this warmth with friendly smiles. It’s an ideal venue to enjoy a relaxed drink, but if you want a taste of what things are like on the other side of the bar, there is a monthly Mixology Masterclass night where you and friends can learn how to make six concoctions! For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.