London’s best cocktail bars
Cheers to world-class martinis and raspberry-infused cosmos.
If ever there were a good time to have a professionally made drink in London, it’s this summer.
It might be to celebrate what is shaping up to be the first full summer since 2019 that Londoners can drink in bars without restrictions; last summer, Covid-related limits persisted into July in England. It could serve as an escape from waves of serious news, such as the rate of inflation, which hit a 40-year high in May.
Or it could be a moment to appreciate just how outstanding the London cocktail establishment is.
Two very different London drinking establishments – the high-styled Connaught Bar and the wildly innovative Tayer + Elementary – took the top two spots respectively on the 2021 World’s Best Bar list released in December.
But local neighborhood joints all over London are also serving outstanding concoctions, not least the fabulous Funkidory in Peckham, which doubles as a record store.
At the Connaught, the platonic ideal of a hotel bar, Director of Mixology Agostino Perrone is watching customers come running back to his Mayfair haunt. “We are seeing record numbers,” he says about the volume of guests. “People are actually – not that we encourage this - queuing to visit the Connaught Bar.”
Peronne observes that guests have became more daring with drinks after so much time spent acting as home bartenders: “I’ve noticed people are now more adventurous with their orders and crave a unique experience.”
He sees guests select orders like the Memento, a left-of-center mix of gin, genever, sherry, extra-dry vermouth, and cypress oil sourced from evergreen trees.
Still, there’s no denying the allure of the martini around London. At Tayer + Elementary, co-owner Monica Berg says a one-sip version, a mini take on the classic, is one of the most popular offerings. “Depending on the day, we sell between 100 and 150.”
The velvety smooth, ice-cold elixir is also the beverage of choice at the Connaught. “According to our records, we mix an average of 15-16,000 martinis per year, only from our trolley,” says Perrone. Every day, he says, “we convert more and more people into martini lovers.”
Yet there are millions of additional cocktails to be had around the city.
Here are the 13 best spots in London, picked by Bloomberg, to indulge in your new, or old, favorite drink.
Le Magritte Bar & Terrace
This new spot in the Beaumont hotel in the West End is an art deco oasis a few steps away from hectic Oxford Street.
It salutes the 1920s in style and puts less-known classic cocktails in the spotlight, such as the smoky Empire of Light, a mix of mezcal, cocchi torino, and amaro that dates back to 1950 and goes for £20, the average price for drinks at this establishment). The bar also boasts a strong selection of whiskeys.
There’s a terrace with rattan furniture and surrounded by tranquil greenery for when the weather behaves. For snacks, consider French toast bites with bacon and chickpea fries; for other kinds of sustenance, there is a cigar menu. thebeaumont.com
This Hackney spot with room for 45 guests is found through a door of Macsmiths, a functioning Apple repair shop.
It’s a cozy and intimate bar – decorated with paintings, plush stools, and plants, like a quirky relative’s house – that specializes in foraged ingredients and the avoidance of waste. Inspiration for the terrific cocktails comes from the natural world, all priced at £9.50, including the Olive Leaf (apple spirit, vermouth, the resin-flavored liqueur mastika, and rosemary soda).
If that’s too adventurous, there’s an inflation-beating Happy Hour with £6 classics including an excellent Espresso Martini. naturalphilosopher.co.uk
Discount Suit Company
Ignore the slight bit of worry that you’re walking down the stairs to the bottom floor of a suit shop or a basement flat in East London.
Once you’ve found it, the brick-lined bar is a gem. The bartenders, dressed in neighborhood casual, are knowledgeable and eager to spend time going over the creative drinks such as the Bad Mama Jama (rum, pimento, fig, bitters, citrus), but they’ll be more than happy to mix up a classic cocktail.
Sip on the Baklava, made with pistachio butter and washed Irish whiskey (£9) and forget that you’re steps away from the financial district of the City of London. discountsuitcompany.co.uk
Taye + Elementary
The name reflects the two identities of this Old Street bar run by a pair of industry pros Alex Kratena and Monica Berg.
Elementary is the casual venue, with floor to ceiling windows, a long counter and cocktails on tap, like the £4 One Sip Martini made with Tayer wheat vodka. Seasonal offerings include the Watermelon Negroni.
Tayer is more theatre; seats are arrayed around the bar station, and the daily changing cocktails are named for ingredients, for instance the vibrant red Hibiscus + Rose, which also features Campari, vermouth, pisco and blanco tequila. tayer-elementary.com
The Connaught Bar
The standard setter for bars in London and around the globe. The Connaught does, after all, hold the title for World’s Best Bar two years running.
Its bartenders, led by Agostino Perrone, make you feel like a million bucks, even if you’re just going for one very expensive drink. Martinis famously roll up on a trolley, and Bloody Marys are spritzed with celery “air.”
More experimental drinks include the Crayola, a tequila-infused passion fruit concoction. A line of cocktails made with vintage spirits, like a Negroni made with ’70s Gordon’s dry gin, start at £100. the-connaught.co.uk
Bar Américain at Brasserie Zédel
This Soho bar could be just a place to await your reservation at Brasserie Zedel or a nearby show.
Instead, it’s an art deco drinks destination that cleverly calls out eras of cocktail greatness. El Presidente is a 1910 rum masterpiece from before Prohibition; the Cosmopolitan is credited to 1934 and features raspberry instead of cranberry.
As a bonus, the place serves one of the best grilled-cheese sandwiches this side of the pond. brasseriezedel.com
The pig-shaped door knocker is the giveaway for this Soho speakeasy that’s up a flight of stairs from Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House, which supplies bar snacks and such dishes as a £39 50-day aged rib-eye.
The Blind Pig is a handsome space decked out with a mirrored ceiling and copper bar, and its drinks have creative, rotating themes that range from books to, currently, music.
Toast to Elvis Presley with a drink that mixes gin and martini Rubino; the cocktail honoring the Curefeatures mezcal, Luxardo, and charcoal powder. socialeatinghouse.com
The walls are lined with vintage drink posters and taxidermy, the lighting is very low, and the soundtrack is hip-hop.
The drinks are destination-worthy at this East London joint that holds on to the feel of a favorite neighborhood bar.
The list of cocktails changes daily but leans on classics; on any given night, you might find an expertly made, Champagne-spiked French 75, a Bourbon Sour or a Dry Daiquiri with passion fruit and lime juice, each costing £10. satanswhiskers.com
This singular bar-record store-wine store has the vibe of someone’s excellent downstairs rec room; it’s the spot with the most fun south of the River Thames.
Created by locals Sergio Leanza and Anna Fairhead, the compact retro lounge has drinks like the South-East Side, a riff on a classic gin fizz made with sparkling mead that’s produced nearby.
Other well-known Funkidory drinks include the Kefi, made with rum, amaro, coffee and mastiha (pine-flavored resin).
The drinks cost around £10 per cocktail, and the soundtrack is suitably groovy, with a lot of flashback ’70s and ’80s tunes. funkidory.com
Ladies & Gents
This Kentish Town institution on Highgate Road had a former life as a public toilet – hence, the name. It has the feel of a dive bar but with inventive, top-notch, quality cocktails.
Operating in shadows cast by dim lighting, friendly bartenders make stellar signature drinks, like the Golden Touch, made with scotch, passion fruit, and grape & apricot soda, at a much cheaper price point than at central London bars - £10. ladiesandgents.co
In a subterranean space down the block from Liberty of London, this high-energy bar celebrates the spirit of Argentina in the 1980s.
Star bartender and owner Tato Giovannoni names drinks for colors: Something Blue is a mix of gin, mezcal, lemonade, and blue spirulina; Something Green combines whisky, chartreuse, and ginger beer.
He also riffs cleverly on classics, adding mezcal to his Last Word. Drinks go for £14 to £17. A constant flow of guest DJs and musicians come from around the world. sucrerestaurant.com
The city’s premier martini destination – no small feat in London - is headed by local bartending legend Alessandro Palazzi.
The drink is made tableside among the imposing royal blue chairs and served ice cold in house dry vermouth-washed martini glasses with gin or vodka.
There are also options like the vodka and passion fruit Miss Moneypenny, an nod to longtime guest and James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Be warned: Athleisure garb is not permitted, and the cheapest drink comes for £25. dukeshotel.com
Carnaby Street may evoke images of the 1960s and Swinging London. But turn into Kingly Court and down the stairs of Nightjar and you’re transported to the 1920s Jazz Age, complete with live music.
The extensive, beautifully illustrated menu has pre-Prohibition, Prohibition-era, and postwar classics on offer. Presentation is everything, with inventive glassware – a pina colada is served out of a ceramic whale’s mouth – and top-notch artistry from the bartenders.
It’s hard to ignore such flaming cocktails as the Name of the Samurai, a wildly unconventional mix of Suntory Toki, “popcorn tea,” mirin rice syrup, plum, and galangal liquor (£14). Impress a date. nightjarcarnaby.com
This article is published under license from Bloomberg Mediamberg: the original article can be viewed here
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