As the winter months draw in and the mercury drops to single digits, our social habits revolve around indoor comfort and it’s restaurants for the most part which sustain us over these dark and chilly few months. Nevertheless, bars have become so much more than just somewhere we stop on the way home. They're everything from a venue to celebrate the end of the week, or an intimate spot for that crucial third date, or simply a neutral gathering point to plot evening dining plans.
The capital’s ever-expanding and diverse bar and drinks culture is something we simply don’t shout about enough. With some of the world’s best bars right here on our doorstep, we hope this list helps to showcase the fantastic establishments which make up London's bar scene.
Here are the London's bars we reckon are either world class or top of their class in the neighbourhoods in which they operate (sometimes both).
The Savoy Hotel, 100 Strand, London WC2R 0EZ
The last few years have seen a fair amount of change at The Savoy, something which is not commonplace for a 125-year old bar. Shortly after the team were propelled to the number one spot in the World’s Best Bars list, head bartender Erik Lorincz announced his departure late last year to open his own venture Kwānt.
Director of Bars Declan McGurk has been a consistent force at The American Bar and, along with new Head Bartender Maxim Schulte, the team once again have their heads down in an effort to uphold the standards expected of one of London’s top hotel bars. At its heart, The American Bar is a piano bar and guests gather to hear resident piano player Jon Nikoll run through a roster of iconic tunes.
Their most recent menu, The Savoy Songbook, pays homage to Jon and other piano players throughout the bar’s storied history.
The Langham, 1c Portland Place, London W1B 1JA
One of our perennial favourites, it’s hard to remember a time when Artesian wasn’t on our ‘must visit’ list. Now it's under the stewardship of head bartender Marco Corallo, supported by Anna Sebastian who has headed up front of house for two years. This team are taking the bar in a completely different direction.
Their latest ‘Minimalistic Menu’ offers 22 cocktails featuring only two flavour combinations – created in the Artesian laboratory. As we’ve come to expect from Artesian, nothing is ever as it seems on the face of it, and rather than spoil the surprise, would suggest heading over before the menu rotates. Its convenient location makes it a natural location to start or end a night out when heading central.
Black Rock House, 9 Christopher Street, London EC2A 2BS
Since opening in late 2016, this whisky-centric bar in the heart of Moorgate has done much to live up to its slogan as ‘The home of whisky in London’. A few months ago this ambitious project took another step towards cementing this, announcing plans for a full-scale revamp.
The good news is that the much loved subterranean Black Rock whisky bar will continue to trade throughout. Boasting a library of around 250 bottles of Scotch, Irish, Japanese and American whiskies, the team are (thankfully) always close at hand to help you select a flavour profile to match your tastes.
As for the revamp, 2020 will see the property expand into a five-floor operation which encompasses a Whisky Tavern, Blending Room and lodging rooms making this London’s first ‘whisky hotel’. Needless to say, we’ll be booking in.
Carlos Place, Mayfair, London, W1K 2AL
Whilst we’ve promised not to single out favourites, it would be difficult for us not highlight the incredible impact which The Connaught Bar has had on the London bar scene.
Currently, it's The Best Bar in Europe and second best bar overall in this year’s World’s 50 Best Bars. Under the careful stewardship of Ago Perrone, the hotel’s director of mixology and head bartender at the Connaught for almost a decade, the bar has maintained impressive standards. Ordering a martini made in front of your eyes on their ornate martini trolley is more than just a strong glass of spirits, it’s a rite of passage.
This wonderfully decorated room, packed with an equally colourful clientele is without a doubt one of our favourite bars in London and holds a special place in our hearts. If there’s one bar which you should visit without thinking about cost – it would be here.
16-22 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3NN
A strong contender for the most instagrammable London bar of 2019, the Martin Brudnizki designed Coral Room was always going to be a looker. The double-height space has bright coral walls and is adorned with inviting armchairs and scallop backed (a-la Sketch) sofas.
That’s not to say it's just about the looks. Any bar that manages to lure head bartender Giovanni Spezziga to run the show, has something very special going for it. Under his watch, the British-inspired cocktail list has grown from strength to strength. The current menu features an attractive array of tall and handsome drinks, many including English sparkling wine alongside local ingredients ranging from Kentish cobnuts, rhubarb, rosehip and Bramley apples, which appear throughout the 14-strong drinks list.
Also worth highlighting is their emphasis on English Sparkling wine – the bar here promotes six small vineyards, whose wine is all served by the glass. We can’t think of a better place to sit back and think of England…
423 Bethnal Green Road London, E2 0AN
This is a tiny bar, hidden in Bethnal Green, which has made waves not only across the capital but internationally, too. Chris Moore, former head bartender at the Savoy’s Beaufort Bar decided to go it alone with the launch of this focused bar, which wouldn’t feel out of place in Soho or Mayfair. He has been handsomely rewarded – taking the No.18 spot in this year’s World’s 50 Best Bars. But it’s their great drinks, rather than glitzy accolades which keep us trekking across town to it.
The French spirit Calvados is a key focus at Coupette, so expect to encounter it in many forms across their 20 strong list. Also not to be missed is their Champagne Pina Colada – a sparkling twist on the classic tiki drink.
The current menu at Coupette seeks to highlight local artisans from the east end of London – their first collaborator is with Ged Palmer; a lettering artist and signwriter whose work can be seen all along Roman Road.
33 Albemarle St, Mayfair, London W1S 4BP
In the competitive world of hotel bars, it takes a truly great team and concept to stand out amongst the competition. The team at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair were clearly aiming for the stars when they relaunched the Donovan bar last year, co-opting bar legend Salvatore Calabrese to oversee an all-new menu and refurbished space - designed as a homage to British photographer Terence Donovan.
One year in and the team are still fresh as ever. With Maurizio Palermo and Federico Pavan at the helm, they have recently launched an updated menu which features drinks inspired by the subjects of Donovan’s iconic imagery.
The location is also now the default pre-prandial spot for those dining at Charlie’s - Adam Byatt’s hot new bistro next door. Furthermore, it comes top of our list for a nightcap whenever we’re out in Mayfair – being just a short stumble from Green Park tube station.
A round of drinks for two won’t leave you with much change from £50 but there’s something deliciously louche about this spot that makes it worth it.
35 St James's Pl, St. James's, London SW1A 1NY
If there’s one hotel bar which we would recommend that every Londoner (and of course visitors) should visit at least once, it’s Dukes. It's a classic cocktail bar situated in the heart of St James which has built its reputation around a single drink, the martini.
For over 35 years, Dukes has been known for its martini and its unique method of service, perfected by head bartender Alessandro Palazzi.
Two things to be aware of when visiting Dukes. Firstly, there’s neither shaking nor stirring to be seen. The experience begins with Alessandro wheeling over the Dukes Martini trolley, laden with frozen bottles of gin and vodka. Once you’ve chosen your spirit of choice, he adds a few drops of vermouth into a chilled glass and a twist of Amalfi lemon twist kisses the rim before being plunged into the drink. Secondly, The Martinis average around six ounces of spirit per drink - so Palazzi has instituted a two-drink maximum. Very wise.
11A Morning Ln, London E9 6ND
Set up by Felix Cohen from the marvellous Manhattans Project who first introduced Hackney folk to the delights of the champagne daquiri, Every Cloud now has mixologist Mark McClintock in charge of things on a daily basis. Of course you could just plonk yourself down and order a Five Go to Mexico without properly reading the drinks list but then you'd be missing out on such delights (from Vice writer Joel Golby) as "The kind of margarita the Man From Del Monte would get in if he was having a big one. The Man From Del Monte, he says: sesh."
Keep an eye on their social feed for news of the bar's now legendary miniatures nights where you either pick the miniature you want them to make into a drink or take one from the mystery box.
Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 5BE
Situated in the tranquil end of Bloomsbury, Fitz’s has quickly established itself as a destination worth visiting. The hotel bar for the Kimpton Fitzroy is an elegant Russell Sage-designed space which turns Jazz-Age glamour up to ten with opulent fabrics, ostrich plumes complete with a radiant disco ball.
One year in, under the stewardship of head of bars Sean Fennelly (ex-Milk & Honey) their menu of 16 ever-evolving signature drinks, continues to thrill. Whilst the team pride themselves on being able to fix a classic with their eyes closed, you’d be remiss not to sample one of their signatures. The Vesca Negroni combines Ford’s Gin, Luxardo Bitter Bianco and Dolin Blanc with an additional concoction of Woodland Strawberry, Rosehip, Aloe and Coconut served as a frozen cube. As the ice melts it blends with the spirituous base, creating an all-new drink in the process.
Fitz’s is the perfect place to bring a date and, now comfortable in their surrounds, the team have introduced a ‘Chocolate & Cocktails’ afternoon tea as well as a series of live events under the header of Fitz’s Unplugged which runs Wednesday – Saturday from 8pm.
Corner of Picton Place &, 31 Duke St, London W1U 1LG
Launched late in 2018 by travelling bartender Megs Miller, FAM is a central London bar masquerading as a neighbourhood cocktail hangout. Situated on a bustling corner off Bond Street, the interiors at FAM have been transformed into a cosy space with a casual vibe – a wall of vinyl (apparently curated by friends and family) invites guests to choose their own soundtrack for the evening.
The drinks list, comprised of approximately fifteen signature cocktails uses light-hearted monikers to describe their sublime cocktails. Take the Fam Margarita, a blend of two varieties of tequila and honey from Devon with an optional top of lager – resulting in a Tequila Shandy of sorts. Alternatively Happy AF – gin, Jasmine Verte and peach liqueur – is an updated Woo Woo for those of us who grew up with Archers Peach Schnapps in the liquor cabinet.
There is also much fuss made about the strong sense of family where the owners of FAM encourage staff to become partners in the business without the need for any financial stake. It’s cheering to see a West End bar experimenting with a different recipe
44 Old Street, London EC1V 9AQ
The creation of Marian Beke who spent five years at the helm of nearby Nightjar, The Gibson is a consistent performer which found early success entering the World’s 50 Best Bars just weeks after opening in 2016.
Since then this tiny bar has always been at front of mind when we’re visiting new restaurants around Clerkenwell or Old Street. As their name suggests you’ll be able to get a pretty decent Gibson Martini - theirs is created with a special edition Copperhead Gin, a savoury take which is packed with spices and 14 botanicals, distilled exclusively for the bar. There’s also an impressive list of 48 signature cocktails to work through - we’ve come to trust the bar team to suggest something exciting and delicious, a promise which they inevitably deliver on.
When hunger pangs strike, their ‘Vittles’ bar menu includes an equally inventive selection of dishes which currently include Oak Roasted Salmon withy pickled quail egg, a Flambé Armagnac & pheasant terrine and Pickled Octopus which call for more drinks to ensure maximum enjoyment.
8-9 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NU
Hoxton’s original underground cocktail bar and one of our long-time favourite East London drinking spots, Happiness Forgets is actually, despite its name, a hard bar to forget.
Headed up by Alastair Burgess (who first cut his teeth as head bartender of Pegu club in NYC) the team here are perfectly attuned to working their way through the ever-changing menu, executing old classics with new energy whilst also not afraid to throw in an inspired twist.
Half of the tables in this tiny space are kept free for walk-ins, but we always either go early (they’re open from 5pm) or try and reserve ahead to avoid disappointment.
Now with sister venue Petit Pois upstairs, Happiness Forgets is perfectly placed to deliver the satisfying one-two punch of pre and post drink – if you’re game.
157A Commercial St, Spitalfields, London E1 6BJ
There are bars that age and bars that age gracefully. Hawksmoor Spitalfields is an example of the latter. In over ten years of visiting it has never failed to knock it out of the park when it comes to both drinks and bar menu. Moreover, it sets the benchmark of what a steakhouse restaurant bar should be (we’re looking your way, Peter Luger).
However, to stay on top, change is inevitable. We’re pleased to report this is for the better. For the first time in nearly a decade, they've brought in a completely new cocktail list which, somewhat impressively, has reduced their use of imported fruit by 60%.
Behind the new menu are Hawksmoor’s Head of Bars Liam Davy and drinks guru Nick Strangeway. The duo have introduced a total of 26 new drinks which slot into five sections: Highballs, Fizzes and Spritz; The Hawksmoor Classics, Flyby Five; Cocktails & Dreams and Temperates. Matt Brown, Hawksmoor’s executive chef has also revamped the bar menu which reads like a dream featuring dishes such as Squid & pork toast, Brixham crab sandwiches and bone marrow oysters.
108 Essex Rd, Islington, London N1 8LX
Based in Islington and the home of modern Irish hospitality, Homeboy launched in December 2018. Founded by Irish duo Aaron Wall and Ciarán Smith, who've worked everywhere from Callooh Callay through to The Dorchester and the Waldorf Astoria in New York, it's since gone on to receive international and national recognition. It was nominated in the final four for the Best New International Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail 2019, as well as being ranked number eleven in the Top 50 Cocktail Bars in the UK for 2019.
As for the tongue-in-cheek drinks list, who wouldn't want to try Teaandabiccie which uses Roe & Co Irish Whiskey, Benedictine, Barry's Irish Tea, Clarified Milk and Hobnob Syrup or maybe Brick Lane Breakfast made with Rice Syrup, Bacardi Carta Blanca, Bacardi Quattro, Salt, Angostura?
Don't forget to check out the teeny Irish speakeasy at the back of the bar too.
23-25 Heddon Street, London, W1B 4BH
Shortly after guiding The American Bar at The Savoy to the number one spot of the World’s Best Bar list last year, Erik Lorincz announced his surprise departure. Immediately questions abounded as to what Lorincz would do next. The answer is Kwānt, his first solo venture, a 19th Century-style cocktail bar and lounge found beneath Momo on Heddon Street.
Drawing upon Lorincz’s tenure at the top end of bartending, the design, décor and menu at Kwānt remain distinctly elegant. The interiors from designer Bambi Sloan are what we can only describe as an exotic drawing room and feature a hand-painted ceiling by French artist Alain Grandne.
Following this lead, the 24-strong cocktail list uses bespoke glassware and flamboyant garnishes to showcase Lorincz’s take on classic serves. Somewhat refreshingly, the menu is written in a manner which describes the drinks without the need for esoteric references – Michael & Peter - Michter’s Bourbon Whiskey with chestnut, Angostura Bitters and pecan nut, for example, is simply delicious.
20 Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PD
Ryan Chetiyawardana simply cannot sit still. Shortly after securing the title of ’The World’s Best Bar’ at the 2018 World’s 50 Best Bars, he promptly announced that Dandelyan - the ground-floor cocktail bar at Sea Containers hotel on London’s South Bank - would be closing with (almost) immediate effect.
Rising from the ashes in January of this year, Lyaness took us entirely by surprise. An entirely new interior design, bar team and drinks menu was an incredible feat to orchestrate in such a short space of time.
The result is an electric-blue rendition of Dandelyan but with a menu focused around ingredients rather than cocktails, themed around flavours such as Infinite Banana, Vegan Honey and Peach Emoji. If this all sounds a little esoteric (we promise it’s not) it’s just a sign that you need to visit to see what all the fuss is about.
129 City Rd, Hoxton, London EC1V 1JB
Nightjar will next year edge into the double digits. If a restaurant makes it to ten years it’s often considered impressive; for a cocktail bar as edgy and divisive as Nightjar – it’s nothing short of heroic. Hidden behind an unassuming wooden door this subterranean 1920s-style speakeasy on City Road has built a loyal following and a reputation for a flamboyant and over the top drinks list.
Nightjar was one of the first London bars to truly embrace a seasonal drinks menu, a tradition which persists to this date. Now under the stewardship of head bartender Antonio Pescatori, the team have built their current menu around the Arts & Crafts decorative movement of the 1800s. In essence, the menu explores lesser known bitters and liqueurs through the medium of decorative vessels and equally ornate garnishes.
Let’s hope they never change
8 Holyrood Street, SE1 2EL
One of London’s first zero-waste bars, Nine Lives was a leader in its field when they opened two years ago, eschewing plastic straws and quick to perish ingredients - an approach now widely replicated across the capital.
For all its virtues, this basement dive bar feels anything but righteous. Looking for a classic cocktail? The bartenders will usually oblige. Despite the focus on sustainability menu is made up of both signature and classic drinks – many with a tropical leaning.
Highlights from their Autumn / Winter menu include Baller Two – Whisky, lemongrass, fresh apple & sauvignon blanc, Bonita Applebum – calvados, pisco, Bermondsey Street bee honey, egg yolk & lemon & coconut dust.
10 Berners Street, London, W1T 3NP
Tucked away on the ground floor of the London Edition hotel in Fitzrovia, this intimate space focuses on, you guessed it… punches. Designed to emulate London’s 19th-century private clubs, the space pays homage to when the communal drink first was imported to Europe by employees of the British East India Company.
The entrance is via a (not so secret) door, inside visitors are welcomed into this cosy space with oak panelled walls, teal velvet banquettes and candlelit tables flanked by leather chesterfields.
This bar is all about conviviality and sharing. Bring a crowd and take on one of the drinks from their new menu, The Missippi Punch features Hennessy cognac, rum and bourbon with some nutmeg and lemon juice to balance things out. Due to its location and focus expect to share your drinking space with glamourous denizens from the hotel above.
34-35 Maiden Ln, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7LB
For an establishment which rates itself as ‘One of the places to drink cocktails in London" you might consider Rules to carry itself in high regard. That said, as the bar of London’s oldest restaurant (an institution which dates back to 1798) you may also say that this swagger is well earned.
The restaurant is said to care not for fads nor fashions, and this can most certainly be said of the upstairs bar. Headed by the legendary Brian Silva, a national treasure and living legend of the cocktail industry, Rules specialises in classic drinks – one where martinis were always stirred and never shaken. There’s also no music, infusions, syrups or even beer. A pursuit of purity in all senses.
For us, it’s one of London’s essential cocktail experiences and (much like a meal at the restaurant downstairs) should be enjoyed at least once. You can thank us later.
343 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9RA
Hip-hop and low-lit late-night bars might be something you’d commonly expect to find in the streets which criss-cross lower Manhattan. However, since 2013 this Bethnal Green neighbourhood cocktail bar has been quietly building a cult following.
Long before the current crop of restaurants came to roost nearby, the team at Satan’s Whiskers took over an old Caribbean restaurant, transforming it with eclectic décor and warm, but minimalistic lighting. The focus here according to the owners is ‘no-nonsense cocktails’ from a daily changing menu, while a window-rattling soundtrack ensures even the most loyal local drinker has a reason to return regularly.
And return you will, once you’ve peered through the steamy windows and headed through the entrance curtain to find comfy leather booths, intimate tables for two and a warm glow flickering across the room.
224 Graham Rd, London E8 1BP
Now a nomadic operation (with a bar in both London and Sydney), Scout has taken its focus on minimal waste from Old Street to a new site just minutes from Hackney Central station. It's the brainchild of Matt Whiley aka the Talented Mr Fox who has been a key part of London's bar scene for years, working for Peg + Patriot, Purl and the Worship Street Whistling Shop, among others. As with the previous iteration, the bar features a minimalist, pared-back design aesthetic – with the focus on shelf upon shelf of distillates, ferments and cordials along with a range of seasonal ingredients such as samphire, sandalwood and Hackney plums captured at their peak.
The larger space here in Hackney has also allowed for the introduction of a short bar snack menu – an essential ingredient of any half-decent neighbourhood bar in our opinion. Dishes at Scout follow the same ethos as the drinks and include sourdough with coffee butter, English cheeses with a housemade tomato chutney, and house pickles with yeast dipping sauce.
12 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 4TQ
Launched by the experienced duo Bobby Hiddleston and Mia Johansson, this bi-level Soho bolthole has been embraced not only by Soho locals, but also the bar community - hosting the (unofficial) afterparty for The World’s 50 Best Bars competition, where Swift placed number 41 in the world.
True to its name, the ground floor sees slick service from their aperitivo menu. We’d recommend trying a Swift Martini and their signature Sgroppino - a refreshing mix of lemon sorbet, prosecco and bergamot liqueur. Downstairs is designed for those who wish to linger a little longer, a refined environment serving elegant and ‘grown up’ drinks, with a piano in the corner to complete the scene.
Their new winter aperitivo menu features drinks such as their Warm Winter Bishop – a blend of Bourbon, Malbec, Clementine sherbet, Chestnut and warming spices.
152 Old St, London EC1V 9BW
Another 2 for 1 play, this time in Old Street by another renowned bartending duo. Years in the making, Alex Kratena and Monica Berg have carefully planned and designed what we consider to be one of London’s most innovative bars. And it's paired with Ta Ta eatery for an excellent menu and kitchen counter.
On the face of it, Elementary is an all-day casual bar with focus on simplicity, stripped back and simple with swift service, bottled cocktails and a short list of small-batch beer and low intervention wine on tap.
The real magic however is found behind the curtain. Here, Tayer a u-shaped bar seating 20, awaits. Home to an incredibly progressive approach to mixed drinks, the daily changing menu features drinks, all of which are created (through infusion, fermentation and distillation) in house. This workshop-style approach is reminiscent of something you might find in Downtown Los Angeles, but it also feels like it has a place in Shoreditch.
510b Kingsland Rd, Dalston, London E8 4AB
One of our favourite Dalston neighbourhood bars opened in 2016 by brothers Noel and Max Venning. Café by day, the space comes alive by night.
The weekly-changing drinks menu spreads nine drinks into categories of One, Two and Three Sheets. Arranged according to strength the menu starts with aperitif-style refreshments before progressing to intermediate-level tipples including their take on a Cosmo and Vodka Soda +. If it’s classics you’re after, you might be best to ask as the Venning’s creations are anything but typical.
If you’re permanently located somewhere between ‘One’ and ‘Two’ sheets, then their short selection of Italian wines and craft beer will appeal. If you do go the ‘Three Sheets’ route, take comfort in the knowledge that the team also serve a range of meats and cheese from Borough Market’s Ham and Cheese Company to line your stomach.
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